Fishermen: Why we reject massive Penang reclamation, Perak sand mining

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Photograph: Camden Damian

The fishermen who marched to Parliament on 11 July have explained in a memorandum why they oppose the 4,500-acre land reclamation project off the southern coast of Penang Island and the sand-mining activities in the sea off the Perak coastline.

More than a hundred fishermen from various units and associations from Penang and Perak gathered, together with NGOs and concerned citizens who are in solidarity, at this peaceful rally outside Parliament on 11 July to protest the Penang South Reclamation project (PSR) and the consequent sand mining in Perak.

The reclamation project will destroy the richest fishery ground in northwestern Peninsular Malaysia, an area which the Fisheries Department has been investing millions of ringgits throughout the years to spur fish stocks and population.

Reclaiming this area is akin to jeopardising our food security.

Handing over memorandum to PM, ministers

Representatives of the fishermen community and the NGOs will be handing over letters of memorandums to ministers from these key ministries, including:

  • Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad
  • Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail
  • Federal Territories (PLANMalaysia) Minister Khalid Samad
  • Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin
  • Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin
  • Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook
  • Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali
  • Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub
  • Rural Development Minister Rina Harun.

These memorandums have been emailed to the respective ministries a week prior to this peaceful rally. The handover of these letters in person on 11 July is a reminder that the Pakatan Harapan government must remain accountable in addressing the plight of all Malaysians with transparency, equity and inclusivity.

Peaceful rally for the B40

The fishermen here today represent the 10,000 fishermen back in their homes who are going to be affected by the reclamation in Penang and the sand mining in Perak.

READ MORE:  The truths behind Penang South Reclamation project

They have travelled all the way from Penang and Perak – a journey which began around midnight in order to arrive at the Parliament this morning.

Many of them are from the bottom 40% of the population in both states, for whom Pakatan Harapan has promised to uplift living standards.

They are gathered here in peace, calling for the federal government’s intervention to stop the Penang state government’s latest property development project.

Shocking approval of EIA despite 44,500 objections to PSR, fundamental flaws in EIA

We question the Department of Environment’s speedy approval of the PSR environmental impact assessment report (EIA) on 5 July 2019, less than a month after the feedback submissions deadline.

Various NGOs, technical experts, and fishermen have also submitted their public feedback letters to the Department of Environment, stating why the EIA should not be approved.

Penang Forum’s online petition on Change.org (launched on 10 May 2019), objecting to the PSR with 20 compelling reasons, has gathered more than 45,000 signatures.

Instead of upholding the importance of public participation, the Department of Environment’s autocratic-like treatment of the EIA process, ignoring valid concerns and objections, as if the public do not deserve any explanation, is highly unacceptable.

Among the following issues raised in the EIA were:

  • The population projection for the PSR is highly questionable, which is stated to be 446,300 persons (18 nasihat document issued by the National Physical Planning Council). This translates into a density of 24,522 persons per sq km, higher than that of Hong Kong island at 17,000 persons per sq km. Penang’s natural birth rate at 1.4 is below the national reproductive rate, and its net-migration averaged 9,000 over the last two decades. The population projection is thus unrealistic and does not have a sound basis and justification.
  • The EIA of PSR does not make clear that its purpose is to sell reclaimed land to fund the Penang Transport Master Plan. Instead, the EIA is misleading, in stating that the PSR is to “resolve the land supply” in Penang. If this is the concern, then the proposed future growth of Penang can and should be planned on existing land already owned by the state government, for instance, in Batu Kawan and other vacant areas in Seberang Perai.
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Misrepresentation of number of fishermen affected

We contend that the recurring narrative by the Penang state government (the PSR project owner) – that half of the fishermen agree to the project – is highly misleading.

(The 18 nasihat issued by the National Physical Planning Council, stipulated options for the affected 805 registered fishermen, with families totalling 3,140 people, but this is only a figure which relates to “Fishing Community in Study Area” in the EIA and not the actual numbers of fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the impacted area. For the EIA’s social impact assessment component, public consultation only gathered feedback from 165 people, out of which 58% of whom are not fishermen, from within a 5km radius. Of the fishermen interviewed (69 people), only 17 indicated their support for the PSR project, while 14 rejected it. Another 24 people raised several questions to get more clarity on the project, and the remaining five asked about compensation. Clearly, legitimising the approval of the PSR project with responses from only 17 fishermen is a severe misrepresentation. The numbers quoted here are based on facts provided in the EIA report of the PSR (Volume 3: Appendices).)

We see this as a deliberate attempt to paint over and simplify the complexity of the issue and rob the voices of the 10,000 fishermen who are going to be affected by the reclamation in Penang and the sand mining in Perak. The Penang “fishermen” who are receptive of compensation offers appear to be mainly retired or part-time fishermen.

As you can see, the overwhelming majority of full-time fishermen categorically object to their fishing livelihoods being curtailed by a property development project. The project footprint will wipe out valuable existing fishing areas for crabs, shrimps and fishes.

READ MORE:  The Hills and the Sea

For the fishermen to go out further to open sea, they will require higher cost for advanced fishing gear, vessels and fuel, beyond their means or their inshore fishing experience.

We have yet to consider the rising tension which could lead to potential clashes between different fishing communities who are competing for a shrinking fishing ground.

Sand mining in Perak – a ticking time bomb

We forewarn that the large-scale sea sand mining off the coast of Perak will have severe implications on the seabed movement and hydraulic flow of the area.

The PSR and the sand-mining activities will affect the northern coast of Perak, where coastal erosion is already a problem, and will affect fishermen from Tanjung Piandang to Pangkor, and affect the mangrove swamps, principally in Kuala Kurau and the Ramsar-listed Kuala Sepetang.

For the PSR, 189.1 million cubic metres of sand will be extracted from off the coast of Perak (compared to 161.9 million cubic metres used by the Forest City Islands reclamation). The risk of sand theft is high.

Unfortunately, the Perak sand mining issue was not formally covered in the EIA of the PSR, and there was no opportunity for the Perak fishermen to submit their public feedback on the sand source.

We hereby submit 10 memorandums to the selected ministries, including two petitions related to the PSR signed by a total of 165,000 people.

We request that the National Physical Planning Council:

  • cancel the Penang South Reclamation project;
  • urge for a comprehensive review of the PTMP that includes three major highways, by independent transport experts and planning professionals; and
  • place a moratorium on the sea sand-mining activities off the coast of Perak.
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