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‘Let it be,’ says deputy minister on Kitingan’s comments on endangered species

Despite their endangered status, shark and stingray meat are still being openly sold in markets in Sabah. (MRF pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy agriculture and food security minister Chan Foong Hin says he does not wish to comment further on the ongoing debate with Sabah deputy chief minister Jeffrey Kitingan on Sabah’s autonomy in expanding the list of endangered marine species.

Commenting on concerns expressed by netizens last month that the Semporna wet market was selling endangered marine species such as sharks and stingrays, Chan said Sabah had the autonomy to expand the number of endangered marine species on its list.

In response, Kitingan, who is also the state agriculture, fisheries, and food industry minister, said Sabah can only enact its own legislation if it does not contradict the Fisheries Act — which does not list certain shark and ray species as being endangered.

In a statement, Kitingan also said that banning the finning and hunting of sharks would be ineffective as federal laws do not make shark finning an offence.

Noting that any person charged under state law could apply for a court declaration that the law is void as it goes against federal law provisions, Kitingan suggested that the Fisheries Act be amended first.

When asked about Kitingan’s suggestion to amend the Fisheries Act, Chan, who is also the Kota Kinabalu MP, said he had already provided his response to the issue.

“I don’t think I need to comment on this issue further. Furthermore, it’s not related to the theme today,” he said today at the inauguration of the World Rabies Day 2023 celebration at the Kuala Lumpur Veterinary Hospital in Cheras.

“Basically, what I said is that Sabah has its own autonomy on this, and they have the right to add the endangered species they wish under the state enactment.

When asked whether the federal government had any specific plans to protect endangered species in Sabah, he said the federal government has “no new policies”.

Pictures of endangered marine species, such as devil rays, bamboo sharks, blacktip sharks, porcupine fish, blue spotted stingrays and parrotfish, being sold at the Semporna wet market, went viral on social media early last month.

These species are listed as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

The Borneo Post reported that the photos sparked an outcry from the diving community, who feared that the unrestricted sale of these marine species could irreparably harm the delicate marine ecosystem and jeopardise the stunning beauty of the underwater world that attracts tourists to Sabah.

In a separate story in New Straits Times, Kitingan said the authorities who conducted checks at the wet market found no violations of the Fisheries Act as the sharks and stingrays sold there were not endangered species.