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Mangrove lands represent a key asset in the natural environment of Malaysia. (Photo: WWF)

Sabah stops mangrove exploitation for shrimp farming

Click on the flag for more information about Malaysia MALAYSIA
Saturday, October 20, 2018, 03:20 (GMT + 9)

The ministry for Agriculture and Food Industries of Sabah has decided to stop the use of mangrove lands for shrimp farming in this state, located on the northern portion of Borneo Island, for conservation reasons.

Minister Datuk Junz Wong explained that the destruction of these valuable natural environment assets is irreversible and that instead of destroying the environment for wealth, it is advisable to promote and encourage agricultural economic development.

Wong decided to withdraw the previous administration’s approval for a shrimp aquaculture farm to exploit an additional 400ha of mangrove land to expand its operations.

Pitas Shrimp Park was launched in 2014 and involved a total investment of MYR 1.23 billion (USD 295.5 million), with private investment of MYR 930 million (USD 223.5 million) and the rest from the National Key Economic Area (NKEA).

The project would have seen Pitas becoming the home of the biggest shrimp farm project in the country, comprising 1,500 shrimp ponds on 1,335ha of mostly mangrove areas.

It was expected to be fully operational this year, bringing in an annual turnover of MYR 300 million (USD 70 million) in the near future. The project was also expected to create 3,000 well-paying jobs for the locals.

Wong said while he realised the merits of the project, he found it necessary to retract the approved additional 400ha of mangroves even though it was promised for the project in the past. In this regard, he said the decision was made after weighing the long-term impact the destruction of the mangroves could bring to the environment in the area.

The minister admitted the project had benefitted the locals economically and as such will not be stopped entirely.

He pointed out the farm will be complemented with several other facilities, including a processing plant, which could provide more jobs for the people there.

“The farm will continue operating. But I always believe there is a need to find a balance between protecting the environment and pursuing progress,” the minister stated.

Wong said although he is sad about the 930ha already used for the shrimp farm, he cannot do anything about it now.

Last year, Sunlight Inno Seafood Sdn Bhd CEO Wong King Ti, who operates the farm, said the farm had the capacity to produce between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes of shrimp per annum.

Once its processing plant is completed, the company expected to hire as many as 3,200 workers, more than 75 per cent of whom would be for people from Pitas.

The previous state government saw the Pitas Shrimp Park as one of the catalysts for the economic development in the district and to bring the people out of poverty.

However, the project also received severe criticism from environmentalists who said the huge clearing of mangroves had badly affected the area’s ecosystem.

For their part, the villagers claimed their livelihood had been severely affected because their usual fishing grounds were now gone.

A representative of six villages, which were initially affected once the land application was approved for shrimp farming, said the minister’s decision to ban future mangrove destruction was a dream come true for them.

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