LETTER | I refer to the Malaysiakini report Overfishing is also depleting Penang's fishing resources.
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.
In December 2018, the director-general of Fisheries Department, Munir Mohd Nawi revealed that Malaysia’s fish stock is in danger of being depleted because of overfishing.
The finding in PSR’s Environmental Impact Assessment corresponds with the observation from experts and the Fisheries Department that fish and prawn landing at Penang south had deteriorated significantly over the past decade.
What caused overfishing? Trawlers. The Fisheries Department had installed more than 100 artificial reefs in the Penang southern sea over the past 10 years. The latest installation was in October 2018 near Pulau Kendi.
Three types of artificial reefs were dropped into the sea - recreational, soft bed and concrete reefs. The concrete reefs weigh 12 tonnes each. And their purpose is not only to spur fish repopulation but also 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 are already severely damaged. The installation of artificial reefs by the Fisheries Department is to rejuvenate the area and stop the destruction.
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 licenses, overfishing continues to happen as fishermen need an income. Unless, of course, there is an alternative source of income provided for them.
This is why the PSR project is necessary. The reclamation project will provide alternative jobs for 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 sources of income can we 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 will save the fishes and fix the seabed.
The protesters are now campaigning for the fishermen who contribute to overfishing and the destruction of the seabed. They have to make up their mind, are they championing marine life or the fishermen’s plight? It is apparent that the NGOs have no coherent cause, not to mention a coherent solution to solve the problems.
The writer is attached to Penggerak Komuniti Muda and former councillor with the Seberang Perai Municipal Council.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.