Agriculture Ministry may recommend EIA for three-island reclamation in Penang be withdrawn

Deputy Agriculture and Food Industry Minister II Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi (second from right) speaks to fisherfolk during a visit to Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Deputy Agriculture and Food Industry Minister II Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi (second from right) speaks to fisherfolk during a visit to Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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GEORGE TOWN, June 16 — The Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry may submit proposals for the approval of the Penang south reclamation (PSR) project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be withdrawn, its deputy minister II Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi said today.

He said there is a possibility for his ministry to propose to the Department of Environment (DoE) and the Ministry of Environment and Water not to approve the Environment Management Plan (EMP) for the project too.

“There is always a possibility for us to do that, we will examine our role in this and the duty that we can fulfil in this matter,” he said during a press conference in conjunction with his work visit here to the Teluk Kumbar fishermen’s unit and market, near the site of the proposed reclamation.

The controversial reclamation project to create three islands off the southern coast of Penang island obtained its EIA approval in 2019 with 72 conditions but is yet to obtain approval for its EMP.

Che Abdullah questioned the real purpose behind the state government’s insistence in going ahead with the project once it obtains approval for the EMP despite objections by affected fishermen and various civil society groups.

“What is the real purpose behind the project when a majority of the fishermen and local residents affected are Muslims and Malay, and other races are similarly affected,” he said.

He reiterated his statement objecting against the PSR project by stressing that the best form of mitigation for the project now “is by way of cancellation”.

Che Abdullah was given a briefing on the PSR, also known as the Penang South Islands (PSI) project, earlier this morning.

“I was made to understand that a total 87 species of fish will be threatened by this project, among which are white pomfret, silver pomfret, red-legged banana prawns, white prawns and tiger prawns,” he said.

He said these were the species that bring the most revenue for fishermen.

He said the then agriculture and food industry minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub in 2019 had asked the Penang state government to conduct two studies before commencing the reclamation project.

The two studies were the “ontogenetic migration of peanaus merguiensis and metapenaeus ensis” in the “impact of dredging and reclamation of PSR of the two prawns population and their fisheries, one year cycle complete” and “noise pollution impact on fish due to dredging and reclamation of PSR”.

“I was made to understand that the noise pollution study has just started where the sampling location was identified while the migration study of prawns is yet to start, so, the question is, why is the state commencing PSR when these important mitigation steps have not been completed?” he asked.

He said the PSR will affect a total of 4,211 fishermen in Zone A in Penang.

The fish landings at the site of the PSR in Batu Maung, Teluk Tempoyak, Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar, Permatang Damar Laut and Gertak Sanggul totalled 13,418.11 tons per year or 24.5 per cent of the overall landings in Penang.

“I note that Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow responded to my earlier statement that a passageway will be prepared for fishermen to go out to sea but we are not talking about passageways, we are talking about the destruction of the fish breeding grounds and total loss of livelihood for our fishermen that can’t be replaced by any compensation or ex-gratia package,” he said.

He said the state government had then claimed that the fishermen can get other jobs to get stable income with contributions to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).

“Have they come down to talk to the fishermen? I have been talking to the fishermen’s unit, the heads of the fishermen’s units, I know what they want. We do not want to close down the whole fishing industry by getting the fishermen other jobs, this is belittling the fishing profession,” he said.

He added that the reclamation project will destroy the biodiversity and natural habitat of marine life in the area where rich breeding grounds will be lost, fishing activities will be partially lost, turtle landing sites will be lost and the food source for sea mammals such as dolphins will be partially lost.

He said this is because the sites marked for reclamation are sensitive areas as these are breeding and feeding grounds and the main migration paths for prawns.

“What is shocking is that the chief minister claimed that the fish contribution for the area was only 0.2 per cent for the country’s fisheries industry, when as the chief minister, he should be working with various parties to improve the fishing resource and fish landings of the area,” he said.

He said Penang has increased its fish output by five per cent between 2019 and 2020 from 51,695 metric ton to 56,849 metric ton.

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