LURED by prized sea cucumbers, foreign fishermen encroach on Malaysian waters to harvest the marine species using damaging methods.
Sea cucumbers, locally known as “gamat”, are found in abundance here, and this year, seven foreign vessels with 32 crew members were found to have crossed the border to harvest them.
More than 500kg of sea cucumbers were seized from the seven vessels and more are likely to have made it back to their countries, where the sea cucumbers cost 10 times more than in Malaysia.
They used specially-made cages, measuring 5m in length and 1m wide, which are dragged across the seabed to collect the sea cucumbers, badly damaging the marine ecosystem.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) District 10 commander Captain Nurul Nizam Zakaria said if the culprits were not stopped, there would be dire consequences.
“They do not care about the damage to our marine ecosystem. For them, what matters is they get the quality gamat from our coastal waters, even if it means crossing our borders illegally,” Nizam said.
The MMEA in Tok Bali here believed the foreign fishing crews would regularly enter the waters close to the coast and set their traps between 5am and 10am.
Nizam said patrols and operations had been launched to detect and nab foreign fishing vessels, which are mostly from neighbouring countries.
“We urged local fishermen to inform us about such vessels in our waters.”
He said based on MMEA’s investigations, the decreasing sea cucumber population in neighbouring countries due to excessive harvesting prompted the fishermen to breach the border into Malaysia.
“Our waters still have plenty of gamat, which is known for its medicinal properties, and used in food supplement and for cosmetic use,” he said, adding that the fishing crew would sell their loot to middlemen or retailers in their country.
“The fishermen know the risks if they are caught encroaching in our waters. They are willing to face them as they get huge profits from harvesting gamat here.”
Nizam said the price of sea cucumbers in Malaysia could go up to RM10 per kg, while in neighbouring countries, it could fetch up to RM100 per kg.
Those found guilty of encroaching into Malaysian waters to fish or harvest its marine resources could face a fine of up to RM1 million and jail term of not less than two years under Section 15 (1) (a) of the Fisheries Act 1985.