JUNE 26 ― The hype over the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project has so far been filled with distortion. I have lost count the number of articles I have read and videos I have watched that repeat the same one-sided, misleading presentation of PSR.
I would like to set the record straight with actual facts.
Overfishing depleted fish stock at Penang South
In December 2018, the director-general of Fisheries Department, Datuk Munir Mohd Nawi has revealed that Malaysia’s fish stock is in danger of being depleted because of overfishing.
Overfishing is fishing at a rate faster than the fishes can replenish, causing depletion and underpopulation of fish stock in the sea. Of the 7,800 marine species studied around the world, 90 per cent were fully fished or overfished.
Back in 2011, a group of experts from University of Malaya and Universiti Malaysia Sabah have attributed the cause of overfishing to the increasing number of fishermen. To curb the increase, the authorities introduced fishermen licence and zoning area for fishing. (Mohammad Raduan bin Mohd Ariff, Mohammad Sharir, Ismail Ali, Mazlan Majid, and Hanafi Hussin, “Perkembangan Perusahaan Perikanan Di Semenanjung Malaysia: Isu dan Persoalan,” Jati ― Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol.16 (2011): 265-299.)
In Penang, the Fisheries Department had to reduce fishing vessel licence by 30 per cent in 2015 to control overfishing.
The finding in PSR’s Environmental Impact Assessment corresponds with the observation from the experts and Fisheries Department, that fish and prawn landing at Penang south had deteriorated significantly over the past decade.
Who caused overfishing? Fishermen.
Fishermen destroyed seabed and marine biodiversity at Penang South
Fisheries Department has installed more than 100 artificial reefs at Penang southern sea in the past 10 years. The latest installation was in October 2018 near Pulau Kendi.
Three types of artificial reefs were dropped into the sea, they are the recreational, the soft bed and the concrete reefs. The concrete reef weights 12 tonnes each. And their purpose is not only to spur fish re-population but to prevent fishermen from destroying the seabed and marine biodiversity with their trawler nets.
As Penang Fisheries Department director Noraisyah Abu Bakar says, “When trawling nets are dragged along the seabed, they destroy the corals These reinforced artificial reefs will snag and rip the trawling nets apart, causing huge loses to the operators.”
The seabed and marine life at Penang south were already severely damaged. The installation of artificial reefs by the Fisheries Department is to rejuvenate the area and stop the destruction.
Who destroyed the seabed and marine biodiversity? Fishermen.
NGOs and activists have been raising their concern over the destruction of marine life for years. Back in February 2013, the Fisheries Department had assured the NGOs that they are looking into the matter.
However, even by restricting the issuing of fishing vessel licence, overfishing continues to happen as fishermen need an income. Unless of course there is an alternative source of income provided for them.
PSR provides solution to overfishing and fix the seabed
This is why PSR is necessary. The reclamation project will provide alternative jobs to the fishermen and therefore reduce overfishing.
The two fishermen engagement centres “Pusat Perkhidmatan Nelayan Setempat” set up by the Penang state government at Permatang Damar Laut and Gertak Sanggul have been registering local fishermen for alternative jobs. Only by providing fishermen with other source of income would reduce overfishing.
On top of that, PSR will also expand the installation of artificial reefs around the southern sea to fix the destroyed sea bed to rejuvenate marine biodiversity. This is building on the proven method used by the Fisheries Department.
This two-pronged strategy enables the state government to create jobs for the fishermen to reduce overfishing and simultaneously revive and nurture marine biodiversity in Penang south.
However, here lies the irony. The very same NGOs and activists who champion for marine life are protesting against the reclamation project, the very lifeline that would save the fishes and fix the seabed.
The protesters are now campaigning for the fishermen who contribute to overfishing and destruction of seabed. They have to make up their mind, are they championing marine life or fishermen’s plight? It is apparent that the NGOs have no coherent cause, not to mention coherent solution to solve the problems.
* Joshua Woo is the executive director of Penggerak Komuniti Muda and former councillor with Seberang Perai Council.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.