Monday, December 8, 2014

Johor Fishermen: Drowning By Development

The coastal fishermen of southern Johor are under pressure. Their very existence is under threat from fast-paced developments engulfing where they live and work – the coastal areas fronting the Straits of Johor. Before work began at the mouth of the Pulai River for the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, they could earn RM100 worth of catch from a quick trip to lay their nets and traps and they could go out three or four times a day.

En Mansor Mahidin, 65
Before work began for the construction of PTP, fishermen earned RM4,000 to RM5,000 a month. Their catch were weighed in tons. Since the construction and subsequent operation of PTP, other projects have appeared on shore such as a power plant and a petrochemical facility that has allegedly destroyed large swathes of mangrove forests along the shoreline on the Malaysia side of the Straits of Johor.

“Before they dug up the mouth of the Pulai River for the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, that area was unique. That was not only a fishing area but where prawns, fish and crustaceans move up river to lay their eggs,” says fisherman Mansor Mahidin, 65. Mansor is also the president of the Fishermen Action Committee of Mukim Serkat.

“So now where are these marine life going to spawn? It’s a critical area,” he adds. Whatever fishing areas are left, have been ‘taken over’ by ships that ply the straits heading into or out of PTP.

All the fishermen have left are spots of areas closer to shore that have not already been affected by a power plant and a petrochemical plant. Fishing communities along the once productive Straits of Johor are hemmed in and stressed.

Note: At time of publication, reclamation work seems to have been halted pending a report and recommendation from the environment department.

Marine Ecology Destroyed

“Any form of coastal development will destroy the ecology of the coastal areas and rivers,” says fisherman Jamaluddin Mohamad, 45.

“A study has determined that the mangrove forests are vital for 75% of marine life and when these are destroyed the impact will be felt by not only the fishermen but by the country as a whole. “Why? Because more fish will be imported to meet local demand and therefore we lose foreign exchange,” Jamaluddin says. Jamaluddin says that the country’s food security will be at risk.

En Jamaluddin Mohamad, 45
“We are one of the largest consumers of fish in the region and yet the government wants to ‘reduce the size of the sea’,” he says. If the current development aren’t bad enough, reclamation work to build islands for luxury condominiums have encroached on highly sensitive ecological areas; Beting Merambong (Merambong shoal) and the island of Pulau Merabong.

Nearby off Tanjung Kupang are said to house the largest bed of sea grass and seaweed on the coast of peninsula Malaysia that supports a multitude of vital species of marine life including the seahorse and dugong. Where the mangrove forests, rivers and estuaries are the nesting grounds of marine life, where they lay their eggs and spawn, shoals and seagrass beds are their nurseries before they head out to sea.

“Why has the government allowed this to happen? Why has the federal government allowed the state government to overrule it on matters of the environment?” asks Jamaluddin.

One Foot In Indonesian Jail

“In 2001 I could easily earn RM3,500 to RM4,000 a month just from fishing in this coastal areas, now I am putting one foot in an Indonesian jail because I have to fish within their borders to feed my family of seven children, the oldest at university and the youngest is just three years old,” says Jamaluddin.

Now, out of 100 days at sea, he spends 90 of those in Indonesian waters, travelling 16 nautical miles, taking him over an hour to get to his fishing area, and spending six to eight hours as an illegal fisherman. He does this at night. Jamaluddin, a graduate of a technical college in Kuala Lumpur only became a fisherman in 2001 when he was retrenched from work during the 1997 economic crisis that hit the region.

Mansor however has been a fisherman all his life. His grandfather was one, so was his father. When he was just nine years old, his father passed away and he had to leave school to follow his uncle to sea. By 12, he was already a fully-fledged fisherman.

“I have sent my children to university from the earnings of those years; two, studied medicine, says Mansor. He is happy that none has followed his footsteps as a fisherman.“There is no future,” he says.

Create A Felda Scheme For Fishermen

“The government tells us to change our ways. We can’t to that. We have no funds. If the government wants us to leave fishing, then do what they did during Tun Razak’s time; give us each 10 acres and we work the land, just like the Felda schemes,” Mansor adds.

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