Six reasons why fishermen oppose Penang’s massive reclamation

Zakaria Ismail is the head of the Sungai Batu Fishermen's Unit - ANIL NETTO/ALIRAN

We are fishermen in Sungai Batu who are directly affected by the project to create three artificial islands off southern Penang Island.

1) Legitimate stakeholders

We are legitimate stakeholders for the area of the project site, where three islands are to be created off the southern coast of Penang Island. We are registered fishermen with registered fishing vessels – with the Penang Fishermen’s Association, the Fisheries Department and the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM). We also have title deeds (geran) for land along the coast.

2) Source of livelihood

We receive RM200 in monthly cost-of-living allowances from the federal government, proving that we are full-time fishermen. With 81 vessels, we earned about RM3m in 2018 [average of about RM3,000 per month per vessel].

3) Higher fuel costs

We also receive fuel subsidies to subsidise the high fuel costs at sea. If coastal waters are reclaimed, we will incur much higher fuel costs [to go further out to sea] compared to now, when we fish in nearby coastal waters.

4) ‘Golden area’ for fishermen

The project site for the reclamation in the south lies smack in a golden area (“kawasan emas”) for all the fishermen in southern Penang Island. This area is teeming with marine life – and evidence of this can be seen in the intrusions of trawler boats reported in the local media.

5) Rich biodiversity

A single rock on land is unable to yield any revenue, but a rock in the deep yields a good income – because it is surrounded by diverse marine life such as cockles, prawns, crabs and fish.

READ MORE:  Balancing act: Southern Penang Island reclamation

6) High dredging costs

The environmental impact assessment report is incomplete. The impact of the annual south-west monsoons between September and December has not been fully analysed. The storms bring heavy winds with strong waves sometimes for seven consecutive days without a break. These waves carry mud and stones to the shores of Teluk Kumbar, Sungai Batu and Permatang Damar Laut.

The prime example would be the mouth of Sungai Batu. Every year, the Balik Pulau Drainage and Irrigation Department has to spend hundreds of thousands of ringgit to dredge the sand and the mud from the mouth of the river. Otherwise the fishermen would have problems going in and out of the river mouth.

If these three islands are built, imagine the problems that would occur along the kilometres of waterways. The fishermen’s activities would surely be severely hit. At the same time, the government would have to spend a lot more to resolve these problems.

The above is an English translation of a memorandum in Malay by the Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Unit sent by Pos Laju last week to the Department of the Environment in Putrajaya. There are some 200 fishermen in Sungai Batu alone. The committee of the Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Unit met recently to discuss the land reclamation and came up with the above points.

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