KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia -- The recent case of a Pulau Gaya fisherman getting the bends (bubbles in his veins) for descending to 52 metres (170ft) a fortnight ago is another sad statement on the state of Sabah's marine resources, according to Datuk Wilfred Lingham, former Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Development.
Lingham, who is Sabah Anglers Association President, said the incident suggests illegal fishing methods are not just continuing unabated in Sabah waters but that the perpetrators are forced to go to deeper depths because the coral reefs nearer to the surface have already been bombed out.
Lingham said 40 metres (150ft) is the maximum limit for recreational divers and it is sheer crazy for anyone to risk diving to such depths if not for a lucrative reason i.e. to collect the spoils from another fishbombing or cyanide fishing mission.
"Reefs at between 50 to 70m are home to the famed tender and delicious 'Sea trout' (popularly called Seven-star groupa by the Chinese) worth RM100 to RM120 live per kg and about RM40 dead at local seafood restaurants," Lingham said.
He said the use of cyanide to knock out the fish before scooping and reviving them is why live marine fish are sometimes shunned at seafood restaurants.
"In any case, 85 per cent of Sabah's shallower reefs have already been bombed out by foreigners and the only option left is to continue to fishbomb and dive even deeper where the catch is also bigger in size," Lingham said.
"Now they have developed a bomb that can blast rocks at 60 metres. They manufacture this bomb and drop it to the bottom using iron rods," he noted.
"They are also importing a water-proof fuse 60m to 70m from the Philippines which can be lighted using a simple match in a floating boat to set off the blast. Then eventually they go down using primitive and probably second hand spray paint compressors bought from shops for about RM500 to RM700 each, attach a garden hose and bring it down for air," Lingham explained the modus operandi.
The latest "bends" incident crippled 27-old Mohamad Asri after a twisted hose prompted a panicky ascent from 52m while dive-fishing in Kudat.
Daily Express Labuan correspondent Sohan Das who covered the case saw substantial bleeding even from the legs and eyes as Mohd Asri lay motionless and unable to speak in what is an acute case of bends. Even after being given five separate 'recompression' treatment at maximum 3 to 4 hours each, the response was poor and RMN specialist doctors decided against a sixth attempt.
Asri was supposed to be flown to the RMN main base at Lumut for further treatment but his condition is so bad that doctors have advised against moving him from the Labuan Hospital's Intensive Care Unit just yet.
"Many have died unreported in similar activities that destroy Sabah's environment and corals.
"I hope the latest case (Mohd Asri) is not one of them (cyanide fishing or fishbombing). It's hard to be sympathetic when the damage caused by these people to Sabah's corals from Kota Kinabalu to Kudat, Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau has been serious.
"The sad part is everything is so visible. You just have to go to look at the boats parked at certain seafronts in Kota Kinabalu and you see these air compressors at the back of the boats," he said.
"This has been going on for a long time and what Sabah needs is to ban them, create legislations that impose tough fines or jail terms before even deep sea reefs that house Sabah's prime seafoods are also bombed out," Lingham said.
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