September 22, 2008

Fishermen Come Up Empty

By Jennifer Gomez

KAMPUNG GAJAH: Fisherman Muhammad Isa had a better than usual day last Monday from his day out in the river - he managed to haul in a 7kg patin (silver catfish), the only fish he caught from the outing.

He got RM20 for it from middleman Najman Ibrahim, and had to make do with that for his entire day's groceries and food for himself and his family.

Muhammad was thoughtful when asked if he would be able to save enough for the coming Hari Raya. He merely shrugged his shoulders.

Muhammad said he had to struggle to make RM200 a month these days, compared with RM1,000 two years ago.

Illegal fishing activities, he said, were affecting the livelihood of inland fishermen in Perak like him who depended on the mining ponds and rivers for their catch.

Muhammad blamed "pirates" who leave their fishing nets in the ponds for up to 20 days while guarding the area and chasing away local fishermen during this period.

Complaints lodged with the Perak Fisheries Department had not yielded any results.

"Despite repeated complaints, the Fisheries Department is not taking any action.

"When we call them, we're told that they'll contact the Marine Department to get the nets out of the water, but they never come."

Najman Ibrahim said fishermen used to land up to two tonnes of fish daily. Now, he only gets a quarter of that.

"Previously, I would sell RM3,000 to RM4,000 worth of fish to wholesalers daily but now it amounts to only about RM1,000. When I called the Fisheries Department last month, they came with their cameras but they have done nothing since.

"The perpetrators disappear when they see the authorities and resume their activities right after the authorities leave," he said.

Fisherman Ishanorzaman Jaimit echoed Muhammad's frustrations, saying that their earnings had been greatly affected since these "illegal activities" started about two years ago, robbing them of a decent living.

Ishanorzaman was unhappy with the Fisheries Department officials who visited Tronoh Mines recently and could not tell if the pond had been leased out or not.

Ishanorzaman said the illegal fishermen were using nets with smaller holes which he claimed were not allowed by the Fisheries Department because they trapped the fries as well.

"They use the half-inch net, when the approved type is the 2 1/4- inch type."

Perak Fisheries Department director Sani Mohd Isa said he was aware of the problem but commented that the ponds could have been leased to these so-called illegal fishermen.

"Their activities cannot be deemed as illegal because the district land office gives out licences for the lease of the ponds to individuals. In the case of Tronoh Mines, we have made an inquiry to ascertain if this particular pond has indeed been leased out, but we have yet to get a reply from the land office."

Asked if it was possible for the Fisheries Department to keep a list of all the mining ponds that have been leased out, Sani said it was a good idea, but it was tough to implement as there "are many mining ponds in Perak".

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