Home Civil Society Voices Six reasons why fishermen oppose Penang’s massive reclamation

Six reasons why fishermen oppose Penang’s massive reclamation

Zakaria Ismail is the head of the Sungai Batu fishermen's unit - ANIL NETTO/ALIRAN

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We are fishermen in Sungai Batu who are directly affected by the project to create three artificial islands off southern Penang Island.

1) Legitimate stakeholders

We are legitimate stakeholders for the area of the project site, where three islands are to be created off the southern coast of Penang Island. We are registered fishermen with registered fishing vessels – with the Penang Fishermen’s Association, the Fisheries Department and the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM). We also have title deeds (geran) for land along the coast.

2) Source of livelihood

We receive RM200 in monthly cost-of-living allowances from the federal government, proving that we are full-time fishermen. With 81 vessels, we earned about RM3m in 2018 [average of about RM3,000 per month per vessel].

3) Higher fuel costs

We also receive fuel subsidies to subsidise the high fuel costs at sea. If coastal waters are reclaimed, we will incur much higher fuel costs [to go further out to sea] compared to now, when we fish in nearby coastal waters.

4) ‘Golden area’ for fishermen

The project site for the reclamation in the south lies smack in a golden area (“kawasan emas”) for all the fishermen in southern Penang Island. This area is teeming with marine life – and evidence of this can be seen in the intrusions of trawler boats reported in the local media.

5) Rich biodiversity

A single rock on land is unable to yield any revenue, but a rock in the deep yields a good income – because it is surrounded by diverse marine life such as cockles, prawns, crabs and fish.

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6) High dredging costs

The environmental impact assessment report is incomplete. The impact of the annual south-west monsoons between September and December has not been fully analysed. The storms bring heavy winds with strong waves sometimes for seven consecutive days without a break. These waves carry mud and stones to the shores of Teluk Kumbar, Sungai Batu and Permatang Damar Laut.

The prime example would be the mouth of Sungai Batu. Every year, the Balik Pulau Drainage and Irrigation Department has to spend hundreds of thousands of ringgit to dredge the sand and the mud from the mouth of the river. Otherwise the fishermen would have problems going in and out of the river mouth.

If these three islands are built, imagine the problems that would occur along the kilometres of waterways. The fishermen’s activities would surely be severely hit. At the same time, the government would have to spend a lot more to resolve these problems.

The above is an English translation of a memorandum in Malay by the Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Unit sent by Pos Laju last week to the Department of the Environment in Putrajaya. There are some 200 fishermen in Sungai Batu alone. The committee of the Sungai Batu Fishermen’s Unit met recently to discuss the land reclamation and came up with the above points.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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Ooichinchye Chinchye
14 Jun 2019 7.50pm

Why not develop the mainland, instead of reclaim land from the sea?? There are so much land in Penang mainland awaiting to be develop!!

Chin Tu Lan
Chin Tu Lan
16 Jun 2019 3.38am

Yes, no environmental destruction there either as there is not much to destroy. Penang is too crowded already.

Melanie Akm
14 Jun 2019 2.22pm

When some of these media talk about the reclamation project, their celebrity are the fishermen. The total registered fishermen in Penang is less than 3,000, according to the data from Department of Fisheries. The fishermen who actually live around the reclamation site number at 912. And one rough estimate of the annual economic value of that area is RM136 million. Penang’s electrical and electronic manufacturing sector alone contributes at least 300,000 jobs and more than RM18 billion in wages annually. However, the fishermen get the limelight. They were collectively portrayed as “threatened” by the reclamation, side-lining those fishermen who support the project. Not only the fishermen who support the reclamation are side-lined, the huge middle class in the manufacturing and services sector – the most vulnerable to the ongoing trade war and very likely to be out of job due to the imminent industrial revolution 4.0 and the emergence of artificial intelligence and automation, amounting to 800 million job loss worldwide by 2030 – is conveniently ignored. The reclamation initiative by the State Government to expand the industrial zone to attract investors to create high-value job… Read more »

16 Jun 2019 7.07am
Reply to  Melanie Akm

As the electronic assembly and manufacturing in Penang leave for lower wage and cost neighbouring countries, and as Industry 4.0 kicks in and reduces the need for industries to employ as many human workers, how will the developments on these three artificial islands replace the jobs lost with similarly well paying jobs to support a middle class?

Also, will the 3,000 or so fishermen whose livelihoods are displaced by these developments find similar sources of income and livelihoods?

Perhaps these fishermen are a declining breed as the veterans retire and their children do not want to continue in their parents’ trade but what will the Penang state government do to enable those remaining fishermen to continue earning a livelihood.

Melanie Akm
14 Jun 2019 2.21pm

“Luddites” stopping Penang’s progress!

Luddites are defined as people who are opposed to new technology or ways of working, according to Oxford Dictionaries. In 19th century Britain, Luddites, driven by a fear of job losses due to the Industrial Revolution, disabled and destroyed machines in wool and cotton factories.

With the ongoing trade war and protectionism, external challenges abound, but the biggest hurdle that Penang faces is its own people. While most want to see Penang continue its onward progress in the face of globalisation, there exists a tiny group of Luddites that sees all developments as evil.

In modern-day Penang, the Luddites opposed all forms of development. Even beneficial ones too ― their opposition to the upgrading of the Penang Hill’s funicular system and the Second Penang Bridge are just a few instances (see note 1 and 2). In recent weeks, the Luddites persisted with their crusade against the Penang South Reclamation (PSR), on the perception that land reclamation threatens the livelihoods of fishermen. Indeed, the Luddites have demonstrated their innate inability to look at the bigger picture.


16 Jun 2019 10.32am
Reply to  Melanie Akm

OK! Will the Penang state government give these fishermen land where they can operate fresh water or sea water fish farms?

Will the state government pay for experts, including from the Fisheries Department to train these fishermen in the methods and techniques of fish farming and continue to advise and guide them through the new learning curve, until they are proficient?

Do you think it is so easy for fishermen skilled and experienced with methods and intuition gained over their lives to adapt to new skills, methodsand intuition required by fish farming?

For worldwide experience, how many veteran workers skilled on existing technologies and methods have been able to successfully lear and master new ones.

14 Jun 2019 2.03pm

I suppose most of the fishermen voted BN so they are “disposable” in the eyes of the Pakatan state government of Penang.

And, with the big mess at the top over the sexy video scandal, issues like this are pushed down several notches in the priorities of the general public.

Sureshpal Singh
14 Jun 2019 10.11am

You cannot please everyone. However i think that any development that damage the eco system is bad

Joshua Lim
14 Jun 2019 9.52am

Legal robbery by the state govt?

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