This is one of the last bastions of fishing in Penang Island. Notice that the protesters are both Chinese and Malay: this is certainly not a racial issue for cheap politicking. The real issue is the potential loss of livelihoods of the fishing communities and of an important source of food supply for Penangites – to make way for property development, much of it probably for the high-end market.
Rampant property development, a large chunk of it to feed real estate speculators, had already gobbled up most of the vegetable farms in Penang. Now, we have to rely heavily on Cameron Highlands for local vegetables.
Will the same thing now happen to the marine fisheries sector?
Will we now have to import even more of our fresh marine fish (as opposed to farmed fish or fish in cages)? The coastal fisherfolk on the mainland lament that Penang is already importing 90 per cent of the marine fish consumed in the state from around the region, especially Thailand, as a result of dwindling catches here due to sedimentation and siltation.
But what happens when our source of imported fish don’t have enough to supply to us? What will happen to the price of fish, which has already soared? This is ironic, isn’t it, considering that Penang is almost surrounded by the sea.
Just as in the Seri Tanjung Pinang project, the fisherfolk will be promised all sorts of things. They will be told to venture into more lucrative fields. In the case of STP, jaws dropped at a public consultation when it was put to the fisherfolk that they could open up seafood restaurants.
This report from The Malaysian Insider:
Death of our community, fishermen say of southern Penang reclamation plan
BY LOOI SUE-CHERN
Published: 13 December 2015 7:00 PM
Penang’s idea to build man-made islands in the south of the island to finance the RM27 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) is not getting any support from the fishing community in the area.
The proposed project, which saw five PKR assemblymen and one from DAP breaking ranks with the state government over a Barisan Nasional (BN) motion on the matter, was the subject of a protest today by more than 1,000 fishermen in the area.
They gathered by the seaside at Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar to voice their displeasure over the proposed reclamation. They represented 14 fishermen units, which have 3,000 members operating from Permatang Damar Laut to Sungai Pinang in Balik Pulau.
“Nobody asked us what we think at all, despite this having to do with our livelihood,” said Datuk Chooi Sooi Kong, 70, the Gertak Sanggul fishermen unit chairman whose unit represents some 400 fishermen and their crew.
Fishermen there, he said, fish in areas up to 3km from the shore, and the proposed project was 1.5km from the coastline.
“That is what we have heard. The islands will be in our fishing area, where the breeding grounds for fish and prawns are. The project is going to cost people like us who rely on the sea to live.
“They should come and talk to us, so we can tell them how their proposal will affect fishermen,” Chooi said.
PTMP’s project delivery partner, SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd, has proposed to the state to reclaim two man-made islands – 1,300 acres (526 hetares) and 2,100 acres (850ha) respectively – and possibly a third island of 800 acres (324ha) nearby if necessary.
The islands would then be auctioned off by the state to pay for the transport projects under the masterplan. However, federal government approval for the master plan is necessary, and without it, the project, including the land reclamation, cannot take off.
Fishermen in the area, Chooi said, are already sore about how mega projects, including the Second Penang Bridge, had changed the condition of their fishing grounds in the south.
He said when the bridge was built, there was a decrease in fish and prawn catches and the price of seafood went up.
“You reclaim in the south, you will affect everyone. You do it up north, the impact on fisheries won’t be so huge because the catch there is little compared with here.
“The PTMP is good but you should come up with plans that don’t affect people’s lives. The sea south of the island has been a source of income for so many families here for generations,” said Chooi, whose father also worked as a fisherman and fishmonger.
“The government should start preserving the sea in this area for future generations,” he added.
New fishing port
The masterplan and land reclamation proposal were presented to the public at a session on the PTMP last week at the city council Town Hall in George Town.
It was stated then that SRS planned to build a new modern port for the fishermen who are expected to be affected by the land reclamation.
Like Chooi, Arshad Omar who heads the southern region fishermen associations of Penang that involve 14 units, said the fishermen were unaware of the public session and knew nothing of the new port plan.
“How can we say if we agree or not? We haven’t been told anything. All we know is, this project, if it proceeds, will be the death of the fishermen here, which is why we are speaking out now, instead of relying on other NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to talk.
“There will be pollution and mud that will make it hard for us to get our boats out. The sea current will also bring pollution to other areas like Balik Pulau. We will all be hit by the vast impact.
“If we can still earn RM100 to RM200 a day now, we can certainly forget about it if this project goes ahead. There will be no chance (to make a living),” he said, urging the state to consider the lives of the fishing community.
“Don’t make beggars of us. If the people suffer, the government won’t be doing well too. Don’t just look at development, developers and forget about the people.”
Fisherman Nazri Ahmad, who has been fishing for a living for 25 years, said they will send a memorandum to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and the Department of Environment to push for the southern coast and the sea to be left alone.
He said the fishermen would seek legal advice if they needed to, and stressed that their protest was not political or against any individual, but merely to protect and defend their traditions and livelihoods.
“We are also not against development. We never objected against previous developments, until this one because it will hit us hard.
“We know Penang is small but growth is necessary. But we cannot keep on developing until it cost us the ecosystem. It does seem that the development rate is out of control,” he said.
The fishermen, both Malay and Chinese, stood and marched shoulder to shoulder while carrying placards and banners with messages to convey their pleas, concerns and also anger.
At the end of the protest which lasted over an hour, they burned a fishing net to symbolise “the death of the fishing community”.
The proposed project gained attention in Penang recently after a motion was tabled at the state legislative assembly last month by BN assemblyman Muhamad Farid Saad.
He had asked the House to compel the DAP state government to subject all land reclamation projects to public hearings and to put on hold new land reclamation projects until oceanic and environmental impact studies are done.
The state government was in an uproar after one DAP backbencher, Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu, an active campaigner over environmental matters, voted in support for the motion.
Five PKR assemblymen abstained from voting and their party, which is DAP’s ally, has defended their vote based on conscience. The motion was defeated with 23 nays against 10 ayes.
The breaking of ranks by assemblymen from the state government bench drew the ire of Lim, who accused the PKR lawmakers of betrayal and siding with the BN.
Teh later apologised for voting against party lines and resigned as Penang DAP organising secretary.
SRS told the public session last week that the reclamation was technically viable and the next step was to conduct a detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA), which would be done by June next year.