KEMAMAN: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency has seized a local fishing boat laden with illegally harvested sea cucumbers off Kuala Kemaman on Sunday.
A 'tekong' (skipper) and seven crew members, aged between 19 and 42, were detained to facilitate investigations.
In the 1.40pm incident, officers on patrol spotted the vessel at about 45 nautical miles from Kuala Kemaman or 10 nautical miles from Tenggol island in Dungun.
Kemaman MMEA director Maritime Lieutenant Commander Mohd Marmizi Mohd Noor said the boat tried to make a quick getaway but was intercepted after a sea chase that lasted about one hour.
Upon inspection, the team found a total of 135kg of sea cucumbers on the boat.
Marmizi said the fishermen had used a special netting and 'unjam' (fishing cages) to harvest the sea cucumbers.
He said their illegal activity could seriously harm the coral reef population in the area if not curbed.
"Many fishermen now turned to catching sea cucumbers instead of fish as they fetch a higher price in the market or RM120 per kilogramme," he said.
Marmizi said sea cucumbers are protected species in the east coast and those found catching or harvesting them could face the brunt of the law.
"Our checks revealed that the boat was only used to catch sea cucumbers, indicating that they could have been doing this for some time," he said.
"Three of those detained did not possess valid working permits," he said.
The case was being investigated under the Fishery Act 1985 for violating a valid licence and Section 51 (5)(b) of the Immigration Act 1959 for working without valid permit.