TARP wildlife under threat by holidaymakers' illegal fishing

Kristy Inus

KOTA KINABALU: The wildlife at Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP) is under serious threat, no thanks to irresponsible tour operators who allow holidaymakers to fish for ‘seafood’.

Marine biologist Scott Mayback said although such activities are illegal, tour companies are openly flouting the law.

It is understood that authorities are receiving between two and three reports on illegal fishing in TARP every week.

Sabah Parks, the statutory body in charge of TARP, had issued multiple summonses to errant tour companies that committed the offence, but to no avail.

Marine biologist Scott Mayback said although such activities are illegal, tour companies are openly flouting the law. Photo Credit: NSTP/ Malai Rosmah Tuah

TARP is made up of five islands — Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, Sulug and Mamutik — and is a famous tourist destination best known for its diving and snorkelling activities.

In an effort to combat illegal fishing in TARP, resort operators, diving companies, Sabah Parks rangers and maritime enforcement personnel have set up a monitoring group.

Mayback, the manager of the Gaya Island Resort Marine Centre (GIRMC), is one of the group’s key members.

“Just yesterday (Aug 29), we spotted a fishing boat anchored near Pulau Gaya.

“We took some videos and photos (of the people onboard fishing). One of them even threatened us,” Mayback told the New Straits Times Press when contacted today.

Mayback lamented that there were too many irresponsible tour operators breaking the rules and too few people conducting monitoring and enforcement work.

He said although there is a plan to establish an honorary rangers programme in TARP, it may take some time to materialise.

“We can safely say there are two or three reports of illegal fishing in TARP every week, and that’s during the day.

“For now, we can’t do anything but take pictures and videos and submit them (to the authorities),” he added.

Mayback said tour companies may have licensed fishing boats and are charging tourists to fish within the park’s boundaries, which is a clear breach of the law.

He also said the tourists, who could be Malaysians or foreigners, normally used nets during the night and fishing rods during the day.

“However, some fishermen and tourists may have problems determining the border and do not realise they are encroaching into TARP.”

Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais, however, said the culprits are well aware of their actions.

“I think they know the boundary and I think they know the law.

“I think they are intentionally breaking the law to make some money.

“And it is always a cat-and-mouse game. When our Sabah Parks rangers are out patrolling, they’re nowhere to be seen. They only go when nobody’s watching,” he told the NSTP when contacted.

Individuals whose fishing vessels are found anchoring within TARP’s restricted waters could be fined RM3,000 and they can also be fined RM500 for every fish they catch. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd