GEORGE TOWN: Fishermen are still against the proposed Penang South Reclamation (PSR) Scheme to create three man-made islands off the southern coast of Penang Island.
During a dialogue, several individuals representing the Penang Fishermen’s Association and different fishermen groups told the state government and its project consultants that PSR will “kill” fishermen and cause them to eventually lose their livelihood.
They also staged a protest outside the hotel in Teluk Kumbar, where the dialogue, attended by close to a thousand people, was held.
Nazri Ahmad, chairman of the association, said that even after the four and a half hours of dialogue, the fishermen were still unclear as to how the project would benefit them.
The explanations were not clear on matters like compensation and fishermen jetties, he said.
“So many things are not clear so we are still worried. There is nothing concrete yet…just promises.
“Right now, it is hard for us to see the future. It just looks like it will be a dark one for us,” he told FMT after the protest.
Nazri said many were concerned about how they would be compensated for this project due to past experiences.
When part of the northern coast was reclaimed for the Sri Tanjong Pinang project years ago, he said only fishermen in Tanjung Tokong received compensation while those from the mainland, who also fished in the same area, did not.
“When their licenses say ‘Penang’, fishermen will go all over Penang to fish, not stay in just one place.
“They have to understand that reclaiming the southern coast will affect fishermen from other units too, not just those in the southern units,” he said.
Compensation a thorny issue
There were also worries that some fishermen will not qualify for compensation because they do not have the necessary paperwork.
“It may be like when you apply for housing, and you have no payslip and Employees’ Provident Fund account, which are required,” he said.
Nazri said things could have been different if the state government had discussed the move with fishermen from the very beginning before decisions were made to build the three islands.
“They should not just send the project consultants and SRS (the consortium appointed to deliver the project) to talk to us after decisions have been made.
“The room for negotiation is limited,” he said.
PSR’s initial phase involves reclamation to form the 930ha Island A, the 445ha Island B off Permatang Damar Laut and Sungai Batu, and a 323ha Island C off Teluk Kumbar and Gertak Sanggul.
The islands will be auctioned off by the state government to pay for its ambitious multibillion ringgit Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), a comprehensive plan to solve the state’s traffic problems with light rail transit, monorail and tram lines; bus services, roads and highways.
The reclamation project however has been getting mixed reactions from locals since it was announced last year. While many welcomed the project for the sake of progress and better public transport and traffic conditions, fishermen fear the environmental impact on the sea would ruin their livelihoods.
Fishermen fear they will “lose out”
Earlier at the dialogue, Nazri said the state and its consultants might assume the project’s impact on fishermen would be small but it was going to be huge for those who lived off the sea.
“We are going to lose out. That is why we are objecting,” he said during question-and-answer time.
Nazri said the southern coast was a popular fishing area, and the authorities could look at the record on how much seafood inshore fishermen caught there.
“Inshore fishermen are not rich. Their boats cannot go far out into the sea,” he said.
Earlier during the dialogue, Professor Sharifah Mastura Syed Abdullah, who headed the panel of experts working on the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, said currents off the southern coast would change due to the reclamation and affect small boats.
She said if fishermen could not take their small boats further out into the sea or would need to spend more on fuel, they could raise this with the state government during compensation discussions.
“The fishermen are angry because they are afraid of losing their income, their place for business and recreation…but you are only losing the seafront.
“You won’t lose your livelihood though your income may be affected. You are not prevented from going out to sea. If you need bigger boats, that can be sorted out.
“Your homes also won’t be affected. Please don’t think the worst,” she said while presenting the findings of the EIA.
Sharifah from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia also proposed that artificial reefs could be created in the sea as new fish breeding grounds to sustain the livelihood of fishermen.
Fishermen remain unconvinced about PSR project
But many fishermen at the dialogue on the reclamation and dredging for the PSR project, remained unconvinced and questioned the EIA assertion that fishing would not be seriously affected by the mega development.
Southern Penang Fishermen’s Association leader Arshad Omar said the southern coast was too important to the community.
“This is the only place fishermen in Penang can catch fish. We lose this, we lose our asset. This is the only place left.
“You say have artificial reefs but it may not work if the fish gets caught in nets before they can breed,” he said.
Fishermen in Penang are reportedly sensitive about land reclamation, as such projects in the northern and eastern coasts of the island have already cost them their fishing grounds.
One fisherman said EIAs “only look nice on paper”, as it was with other earlier projects like the Sri Tanjong Pinang and Jelutong reclamations, but the outcome may be different.
Another said development had killed the corals at Pulau Jerejak near the Penang Bridge.
He also said the state government should gazette fishing areas as heritage zones if it cared about fishermen, who were continuing a traditional trade.
“What I see (from the EIA) is one-sided and we fishermen are not on the winning side,” Haja Mydin Sheikh Kamat from the fishermen association’s secretariat said.
Several other fishermen urged the state government to tell them how much compensation they were going to receive because they believed the project was going to go ahead despite their objections.
State local government, traffic management and flood mitigation committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said today’s meeting was the second dialogue to brief fishermen, and although the community was still against the project, their response today was better.
“During the first dialogue months ago, it was as if there was going to be no compromise at all.
“Although they are objecting due to worries of (the project’s) negative impact, a few of them agreed with the state to find some meeting point,” he said.
Chow cited a finding in the EIA that revealed that surveys conducted on fishermen about their reactions to the project in January and June this year had improved after six months.
In January, 94.5% believed the project would negatively impact them. However in June, the percentage of those who viewed the project negatively went down to 74.5%. While 49.5% disagreed with it, 40.5% agreed and 10% said they did not know.