KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 28 — Fish prices in the peninsula could increase in the coming months leading up to Chinese New Year next year due to an acute shortage of workers, according the Malaysia Fisheries Association.

Its president Chia Tian Hee told news portal The Malaysian Insight that fishing vessels in Selangor, Perak and Pahang are currently operating at only half their capacity due to the lack of manpower.

He said the situation is even more dire at the Hutan Melintang fishing port in Perak — which supplies almost one third of the country's fish — where only 10 per cent of the 600 boats are going out to sea now.

He said Malaysia would be forced to import fish to fulfill the shortage in supply, but added that even then, locals may have limited choices.

“Even if we import the fish to meet the demands, we will not get the best ones because the rich countries would have bought them all.

“We will only be left with the B or C grade fishes to choose from,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

In recent weeks, Malaysians have taken to social media platforms to complain about the rising price of food items, especially vegetables.

The price of vegetables such as cauliflower, choy sum, broccoli, sawi, string beans, cabbage, red chilli and green chilli had reportedly increased by 40 to 200 per cent.

Consumer associations have called on Putrajaya to intervene in the issue before prices spiral out of control.

According to Chia, the fishing industry is facing a double whammy with wage woes and a changing work culture.

He listed additional costs of bringing in foreign workers to fill the manpower shortage, noting that it could cost operators up to RM10,000. On top of that, the wages for foreign labour have also gone up.

Chia said that in the past, a foreign worker would be paid RM1,300 a month.

“Now it’s RM1,800 and, on top of the salary, the surplus of their catch has to be shared with them,” Chia told the news portal, adding that on average they spend 22 days at sea per month.

Apart from that, the government's plans to introduce the Minimum Standards for Worker Accommodation and Facilities Act of 1990 (Act 446) with the issuing of temporary work permits for foreign workers will further complicate things.

Chia said applying for permits takes a long time and most employers can’t be bothered with it as it is time consuming.