PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia loses RM6 billion in revenue annually due to illegal fishing by encroaching foreign fishing vessels in the East Coast, said the Fisheries Department (DOF).
Describing the issue as ‘very serious’, DOF director-general Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan said most of the illegal fishermen are from Vietnam and Thailand.
“These illegal, big fishing vessels from Vietnam and Thailand purposely encroach into our waters. They steal about 980,000 metric tonnes of fish annually from us, estimated to be worth RM6 billion,” he told a press conference in his office today.
Among the hotspots are Kemaman (Terengganu), as well as Kuala Sedili and Mersing (Johor).
In the first half of the year, the DOF recorded two encroachment cases from Vietnam and one case from Thailand.
All the foreign fishing vessels have been confiscated, with total assets (including the stolen fish) worth RM7 million.
The captain of an illegal foreign fishing vessel can be fined up to RM1 million each and his crew members can be fined RM100,000 each if found guilty.
“I've also discussed the issue with my counterparts at Asean level," said Ismail.
Ismail admitted that DOF’s assets are in dire straits as they are already 25-years-old and cannot keep up with the illegal foreign boats in high speed chases.
“My department desperately needs new ships in order to protect our waters from these illegal foreign fishermen.
“In our current situation, we have to risk our lives in catching any illegal fishermen because our old ships can only travel up to 12 nautical miles per hour.
With new assets, Ismail said his department, comprising 380 enforcement officers, can reduce illegal fishing by 20 percentage points.