KOTA KINABALU: It is not easy to catch fish bombers red-handed, Sabah Fisheries Department’s legal and enforcement unit chief, Mohd Yusoff Anthony, said.
Mohd Yusoff told the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the presence of illegal immigrants in Sabah, that this is because they are opportunists who will carry out illegal activities whenever they have the chance.
He said this when replying to a question from Commissioner Datuk Henry Chin Poy Wu yesterday.
Chin had asked Mohd Yusoff how many of those charged in court for fish bombing activities had been arrested red-handed at sea carrying out the illegal style of fishing.
“All those charged were arrested on shore with possession of bombed fish. We have no cases of any arrests made during the actual bombing activity,” he said.
Mohd Yusof said, these people are usually charged under Section 26 (C) of the Fisheries Act 1985 which is for having knowledge that the fish they possess were caught using explosives.
“The burden of proof is on the fisheries department’s enforcement personnel because if the suspect insists that they do not know they are in possession of bombed fish, the enforcement personnel would have to prove that they are lying,” he stressed.
There is also a need for heavier penalties to be imposed on those found in possession of bombed fish so that people will be deterred from carrying out destructive method of fishing, Mohd Yusoff said, adding that the state fisheries department has recommended for the law to be amended.
To a question from Chairman Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong on what types of fish were caught with the explosive method, Mohd Yusoff replied that the most common species are the ikan sulit, ikan anjang anjang, garoupa and trevally.
“Don’t buy ikan sulit and ikan anjang ajang as 95 per cent of those sold in the markets are bombed,” he advised.
To Shim’s next question on how to identify a bombed fish, he replied that the fish’s body would be soft to the touch and when opened, internal bleeding can be seen in the fish’s stomach.
Fish bombing, if not curbed, could contribute to the end of fish stock supply in Sabah due to the loss of habitat and breeding grounds of most fish and marine life, he stressed.
“Homemade explosives are thrown into coral beds where fish are abundant and the explosion will destroy the corals which are where the fish as well as other marine life breed and take refuge in.
“Fish bombing is also bad for tourism as it affects scuba drivers,” he said, adding that from reports the fisheries department received, fish bombing activities are prevalent in the islands of Mengalum, Mantanani, the upper part of Banggi and islands around Semporna including dive havens, Mabul and Sipadan island.
The cases in Mabul and Sipadan island are isolated cases as only about five have been reported, he said.
According to Mohd Yusoff, up to now, 209 Filipinos, 18 Indonesians and 148 Malaysians have been charged in court under Section 26 (C) of the Fisheries Act 1985 and they were fined between RM300 and RM10,000 and/or imprisoned between three to 18 months.
When Shim asked if he personally was happy with the punishment provided under the law, Mohd Yusoff said that the state fisheries department had proposed for heavier penalties.
He also revealed that based on the cases that the department had investigated, fish bombing activities are carried out by immigrants who are residing in Sabah, some whom are in possession of the IMM13 document.
There are also cases of foreign fishermen encroaching into Malaysian waters but these are minimal, he said.