An ocean conservation group is calling for tougher enforcement of the shark trade ban in Brunei, following the reported selling of shark meat in several supermarkets.
Sea Shepherd Global's director of Asia, Gary Stokes, has urged the authorities to take action against shark trade offenders in a move that would signal a message of deterrence to "those who wish to challenge" the ruling.
Despite the country's blanket ban on all shark products, he claimed people continue to show defiance due to lack of enforcement and awareness.
Last week, the Fisheries Department ordered retailers to remove shark products from their shelves after The Brunei Times found supermarket chains openly selling packets of salted shark priced at $11 (S$11) to $13.50 per kg.
"Why do people ignore the ban? They see a lack of enforcement, so they continue to (flout the ban) because they can," said Stokes.
However, he acknowledged that enforcement is a difficult task for any government agency to undertake particularly in the follow-through and upholding of the shark trade ban when a case is brought to court.
"Whilst everyone praises when laws are brought into effect... Enforcement is where the real challenge lies," he explained.
Stokes said he was pleased to hear the authorities had taken shark products off retail shelves and hoped charges would be pressed against the supermarket owners as well as the local suppliers and importers.
He added that companies exporting illegal products to Brunei should be penalised on top of an import ban levied on their businesses and subsidiaries.
Under the Fisheries Order 2009, shark trade violators can be fined up to $1,000 by the Fisheries Department or face prosecution in court with a maximum penalty of $10,000 or sentenced to one year imprisonment, or both.
After news of shark meat being sold in supermarket chains broke out, Stokes sent a letter to the Fisheries Department urging for action against the offenders.
He wrote Sea Shepherd Global fully supports the government on ensuring that a maximum penalty is handed out to criminals, who were also "guilty of tarnishing the good image and intentions of (the country in its efforts) to lead the way in conservation".
Sharks play an important role as apex predators in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, but many of its species are endangered as a result of overfishing and overconsumption.
In a bid to save Brunei's depleting fish resources, the government last year introduced a total ban on the catch, sale and import of shark products. The initiative, which was the first in Asia, drew widespread praise from conservationists.