KUALA LUMPUR - Under Malaysian law, sharks can be consumed because they are considered "fish".
That can soon change with a new legislation that is aimed at listing sharks as a protected animal.
Sharks, which come under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is listed as "fish" under the Fisheries Act.
What Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar wants to do is to remove sharks from the purview of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry (MOA) and to recognise it as a protected species under a planned Protected Marine Species Act.
Following the circulation of gory images of alleged shark finning activities in Pulau Mabul, near Sipadan in Sabah, he said: "It's rather unfortunate that our law defines sharks as fish. It's not under me, it's under the MOA.
"They are concerned about food, protein and consumption while at the same time they are also looking after the sharks.
"So, there is a bit of a conflict there," he told reporters yesterday.
Dr Wan Junaidi said his ministry was drafting a Protected Marine Species Act, so that "anything under CITES will be placed under my ministry".
"Let the fish for consumption be under the MOA and let the protected species in the sea and rivers be under my ministry," he said.
Dr Wan Junaidi said negotiations with the MOA were in the initial stages, which may see an amendment to the Fisheries Act in order to make way for the proposed law.
However, he said the drafting of the Act itself was almost done.
"Now it is just the high-level negotiations and getting it to Cabinet and Parliament," he said.
On the Pulau Mabul shark finning photographs, Dr Wan Junaidi said he could not verify the authenticity of the reports but environmentalists have already expressed outrage over the issue.
Malaysia, according to the World Wildlife Fund, is the ninth largest producer of shark products and the third largest importer of shark fins in the world.
Conservation organisation Traffic reported that more than 231 tonnes of sharks were caught in Malaysia between 2002 and 2011, accounting for 2.9 per cent of the total globally-reported shark catch.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that between 2004 and 2011, the domestic consumption of shark fins by Malaysians jumped an average of 54 per cent each year.
Images of de-finned sharks and shark products being sold openly in Sabah have triggered calls by environmentalists and even Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun to impose a ban on the activity.