Fishermen raise alarm over Penang’s 3 islands project

Fishermen in Penang are worried that the reclamation project will further affect their catch. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A fisherman from Penang has sounded the alarm on the declining fish supply in the Straits of Melaka, which he feared may get worse due to drastic development plans in the state, especially the Penang South Islands (PSI) project, or better known as the three islands project.

Nazri Ahmad, chairman of the Penang Fisherman Association, said Malaysia was already importing fish from Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan and Africa to meet local demand.

“We are a country with one of the world’s richest marine life. We should be exporting fish to other countries,” he said during a forum called “The Impact of Climate Change & Human Caused Hazards on Marine Environment in Malaysia” at the Institute of Islamic Studies.

He attributed the dwindling supply of fish to the failure in controlling the ecosystem and enforcing laws.

Nazri said that the imported fish would often have toxic chemicals which were used as preservatives.

“Among the fishermen we call it ‘ubat mayat’ or ‘corpse preservatives’. The chemical is far more dangerous than acid,” he said.

Nazri also said that many species of fish were already extinct in Penang waters, such as “ikan kembung” or chub mackerels.

Others were dwindling and as a result, they fetched high prices in the market. “‘Ikan terubuk’ or toli shad – a kilogramme can cost up to RM200. Even then, you might still not get it.”

He said the coastal areas earmarked for the reclamation project were rich breeding grounds for many species of fish.

Nazri also pointed at the destruction of bay areas that served as shelter for the fishermen during bad weather.

He said at least 5,000 fishermen will be affected by the projects.

“We are seen as a group that does not give any impact to the government or the society. It is sad because we risk our lives to make a living and to provide food for the people.”

He added that many did not want compensation as their livelihood had always depended on the sea.

“The consultants and the state government would say the fishermen must change jobs, but change to what?”

It was previously reported that the three proposed islands are to be built off the south coast and will cover an area of 1,819 hectares. The first to be built would be island B, the second largest island (566ha), off Teluk Kumbar; followed by island A (930ha) below the airport runway off Permatang Damar Laut; and island C (323ha) near Gertak Sanggul.

The reclaimed land will belong to the state government but will be auctioned to the highest bidder to finance the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan, which calls for a series of highways, light rail transit and other modes of transport to be built over the next 20 to 30 years.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was initially rejected in 2018 due to concerns over fisheries. The PSR project delivery partner, SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd, had said the first EIA was rejected because fisheries and social impact assessments had not been required when the EIA was submitted in 2017, and were made a requirement mid-way. The second EIA was sent to the department with a Fisheries Impact Assessment on June 19. It was approved on June 25.

Meanwhile, another panellist Khoo Salma Nasution from the Penang Forum, one of the vocal opposition groups against the project, said the present EIA procedures might result in a conflict of interest.

“The project company would pay a consultant to do the EIA for them. It’s hard to get an objective report,” she said.

She suggested that the project company should instead pay a deposit to the Department of Environment for them to appoint a consultant from a panel to carry out the EIA.