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Four inspiring groups I met at the fishermen’s march to Parliament

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Simon Tan explains why he wants to support the fishermen’s cause even more after their march.

I arrived at the National Monument in the early morning of 11 July 2019 to join and support groups of fishermen from Penang and Perak, all wearing either black or white “Penang Tolak Tambak” or “Perak Tolak Tambak” T-shirts.

Later that morning, I met four groups of people that made a lasting impression on me and further inspired me in the cause of protecting our priceless environment.

Sustainable fishermen from Penang

The first group were the fishermen from Teluk Kumbar who have fished in that bay along the southern coastline of Penang Island for generations.

A representative told me that in the 1970s, his father just rowed his boat around the bay, cast his net and within two hours, his boat would be full of fresh wild fish and prawns.

Today due to pollution and the reclamation at Bayan Lepas nearby, he has to use his single-engine boat to fish around Pulau Kendi off the southwest coast, almost two kilometres from the Sungai Batu jetty.

These fishermen are providers of fresh wild fish and prawns, earning an honest living using skills honed over generations while working with nature.

Worried fishermen of Perak

The second group were the fishermen from Perak. I had the chance to speak to their leader when I bought nasi lemak for them at a discount. He was happy that I managed to get a discount for them.

Compared to the fishermen of southern Penang Island who would lose 4,500 acres of fishing grounds, he said fishermen in Perak would suffer many times more acres of damaged sea bed from sand-dredging – on top of the pollution that would affect the whole Perak coastline.

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Why do we sacrifice our rich fishing areas in northwestern Peninsula Malaysia that provide food security for our country?

I salute both groups of selfless fishermen who sacrificed their time and income for the day. They proved wrong the internet shills and spiteful commenters who spread fake news that the fishermen were paid by the present opposition.

Why overlook the national service provided by our inshore fishermen, who are providing fresh wild fish for our whole country at affordable prices.

These fishermen use low-carbon, safe and sustainable fishing methods practised over generations.

They carried banners such as “We reject PSR [Penang South Reclamation]”, “We reject compensation”, “We want to fish” and “Don’t pour sand into our rice pot”.

Activists struggling to save the environment

The third group were the NGO activists, including #PenangTolakTambak activists who raised funds for the event and sold T-shirts to supporters. These T-shirts were also distributed to known fishermen and supporters to provide uniformity and control, thus successfully preventing any party from hijacking the event.

Representatives of NGOs from around the country who are fighting against the destruction of the environment also turned up to support the fishermen. The friendly police personnel were satisfied with the smooth organisation, the uniform T-shirts and peaceful crowd, and I thank them for providing security and traffic control.

The MPs we are counting on

The fourth group were the MPs whom the fishermen and NGOs came to see.

I hope our elected representatives did not miss the key reasons for the march. If they did, here are a few questions for them to ponder over.

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Why would the fishermen and NGO representatives sacrifice their time and lost income for the day to travel to Parliament?

Why do we need to sacrifice the rich undersea ecosystem that has benefited the Rakyat for centuries in the name of development that will benefit mainly the privileged?

Why link the massive reclamation to the bloated and convoluted PTMP [the so-called Penang Transport Master Plan]?

Now that we are experiencing the early signs of climate change, shouldn’t we have a moratorium on deforestation and reclamation?

There are many losers including the Rakyat like me who will have to grapple with scarce fresh wild fish supplies, soaring fish prices and the erosion of our food security.

All photographs by Simon Tan

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