LETTER | We read with great interest the recent reports in recent media reports on how off-shore sand mining and reclamation have negatively impacted on the livelihood of thousands of coastal fishermen.
It was also reported that the destruction of mangrove forests and the encroachment of foreign fishermen have damaged marine habitats and further exacerbated these fishermen’s already tenuous existence.
While we welcome the statement made by Muhammad Faiz Fadzil, Chairman of the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (Lembaga Kemajuan Ikan Malaysia, LKIM) highlighting sand mining activities and its destructive consequences, we would like to point out that coastal land reclamation activities have had similarly deleterious, if not worse, impacts on Malaysia’s marine habitat.
Reclamation projects in the Penang waters have led to markedly reduced catches by our coastal fishermen. This grave situation calls for concerted and coordinated rehabilitative strategies by the authorities and stakeholders to halt this trajectory of destruction of the environment and continued hardship on these affected fishermen.
Interviews with inshore fishermen from Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Gurney and Paramount during a Sesi Aduan Nelayan (Complaints Session for Fisherfolk) organised by Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Consumers’ Association of Penang, and Penang Forum, pointed to a significant decline in their catch in terms of volume and diversity following the start of reclamation projects of Seri Tanjung Pinang (1 and 2) and Gurney Wharf in 2016.
The fishermen said that large prawn catches have dropped from 15kg daily before reclamation to a mere one or two kg a day.
Some fishermen say that clams, pomfret and ikan sembilang have virtually disappeared from the area while other fish have also reduced drastically. Nearly all of those interviewed mentioned the deterioration of sea water quality after reclamation.
A fisherman who previously earned RM2,000 a month before reclamation now makes RM600 a month. Almost all the fishermen interviewed say that while they had a relatively comfortable existence before reclamation, their lives are now one of hardship and uncertainty.
In the Sesi Aduan Nelayan at Bagan Ajam, the fishermen interviewed said that the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) reclamation project that was completed in 2005 had badly impacted the quantity and diversity of the catch in the area. Up till now, the sea and marine catch have not recovered from pre-reclamation levels.
One fisherman said that at one time, he could catch between 50 to 70 pomfrets (ikan bawal) a day, but after reclamation this has dropped to two a day.
The fishermen in the Bagan Ajam interviews also said that the seawater is now dirty, muddy and turbid in the area. Some have even pointed to the polluted sea as causing them skin problems.
Others complain that they often pull out jellyfish (obor-obor) and sea urchins (landak laut). The increased debris in the sea frequently damage their nets, which are expensive to replace.
The sea between Butterworth and Tanjung Tokong was famous for ikan kembung, which used to be so affordable it was fed to cats. It is rare to find significant amounts of ikan kembung these days, and therefore the local people are deprived of the "people's fish" (ikan rakyat).
It is worth noting that these fishermen are amongst the most reliable stewards of the sea, because any change to the conditions of the sea will have a direct bearing on their daily income.
They know what are the optimal marine conditions that will attract the most fish; they know the areas near the coast where the fish come to breed. They know profoundly when the sea is burdened by pollutants and sediments because of the reduced number of fish they catch, or the very absence of any fish.
They do not have a myopic zero-sum perspective, because traditional fishing is an economic activity that thrives on sustainable and sensible handling of fish stock, the sea and the coastal environment, for the long term.
The pollution resulting from reclamation, sand-mining and dumping may also affect the billion-ringgit marine aquaculture industry. Penang was recently hit by Typhoon Lekima, which stirred up pollution from the seabed, resulting in a fish kill of 50,000 fish and causing great loss to the aquaculture industry.
In the last two days, several other pollution events were recorded in Batu Feringghi, Teluk Bahang and Teluk Kumbar. There could be several causes of pollution but with reclamation works in progress, pollution in the seas of Penang has reached saturation point.
With all this in mind, we would like to propose that LKIM and/or the relevant government ministries and departments immediately commission an in-depth study by an independent institution of unquestionable reputation, on the impacts of reclamation.
From these findings, they can then make informed policy recommendations to the government on how to rehabilitate the affected areas both on land and sea. If the study finds that full rehabilitation is impossible, then there should be a moratorium on any future reclamation.
We know that reclamation and/or sand-mining projects are being planned in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johore and Sabah, with no regard whatsoever for the inshore fisherfolk community. The fishermen and farmers of Malaysia upon whose blood, sweat, and toil the nation was built, deserve better as we approach the 62nd anniversary of Merdeka.
The writer is attached to the Penang Forum.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.