A LARGE tiger shark weighing over 500kg was allegedly caught and sold at the Jerudong wet market earlier this week, sparking an outcry from authorities and conservationists for tougher enforcement of the shark trade ban in Brunei.
Images of the dead shark, tightly roped to a boat trailer by the shore of Jerudong Beach, was widely circulated on social media as defiant fishermen continue to hunt the endangered animal.
A senior official from the Fisheries Department, who declined to be named, denounced the recent poaching incident as "very daring" and added that stern action will be taken against the offenders following immediate investigation into the case.
The government last year was the first in the region to impose a blanket ban on the import, selling and consumption of shark products nationwide amid dwindling fish resources.
Despite the ban, shark meat is still available in scarce quantities and sold at a higher price on the black market.
The price of raw shark meat now fetches between $4 (S$4) and $6 per kg, compared to $2 or $3 per kg before the shark trade was banned.
In the latest act of defiance, a large tiger shark was caught by fishermen in Brunei waters and sold to a restaurant owner for around $500 on Monday morning.
According to ecotourism organisation SEEtheWILD, sharks are endangered as the result of human activities such as commercial fishing and bycatch.
Shark fins are particularly sought after for traditional Chinese medicine, while shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Asian cultures.
Zul-Faisal Hj Saherin, an enforcement officer from the Fisheries Department, said the half-tonne tiger shark was among the biggest catch discovered since the ban was put into place.
"We have been conducting routine inspections at the supermarkets and wet markets. It appears that shark products are no longer being sold in the open," he said, noting that sharks are usually captured by fishermen as bycatch.
However, the availability of shark meat on the black market have spurred rumours of a possible local poaching operation in the sultanate.
The enforcement officer said authorities were currently unaware of any shark poaching ring, but would look into leads provided from tip-offs.
He urged the public to come forward with information on shark trade offences by contacting the Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 7297771.
Nadzirah Hj Abdul Malek, a member of the international non-profit organisation Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, called for greater enforcement of the shark trade ban.
"Sharks are heavily misunderstood. Some people still regard sharks as dangerous predators preying on humans.
I believe every creature is created for a purpose. Sharks play an important role in balancing the ecosystem as they are at the top of the food chain," she said.
The marine activist explained that most sharks have been classified as vulnerable due to overfishing and overconsumption.
Although Nadzirah has made nearly 400 dives around Brunei, she lamented that she has never come across any sharks in the sea. "It paints a grim picture of how overfished our waters are. If we are not careful, we could face potentially devastating consequences in the long term."
In 2013, Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said overfishing had led to a drop in fish resources around Brunei waters with statistics estimating that fish resources have fallen to about 21 per cent of what they were in 1999.
Shark catches, although not the target fish in the country, have also notably declined over the years. In 1994, shark catches were around 40 metric tonnes, but plunged to an all-time low at 16 metric tonnes in 2011.