Bleak and stormy times for fishermen

The jetty in Pantai Sungai Burung, Tanjung Karang where Zulkifli Subran starts his day.

KUALA SELANGOR: Zulkifli Subran sighs heavily as he gazes out to sea, dreaming about better times when making decent money from coastal fishing was possible.

After three decades as a fisherman, the 46-year-old is well aware that his source of livelihood isn’t always under his control.

External factors like unpredictable weather, and temporary inconveniences like the movement control order make it hard for him to catch in-demand fish and sell them at a reasonable profit.

It’s becoming more and more difficult for fishermen like him to sustain themselves.

“I often go down to the water, only to see that it’s not flowing, as older fishermen say. When I haul in the nets, they’re empty, there’s no fish,” he told FMT.

Whatever he catches he takes to town to sell to local fishmongers. They only want certain fish, so that means, he can’t sell all of his meagre catch.

Zulkifli Subran tends to his net before casting it out at sea.

“We look at the size of the fish. Bigger is obviously better price wise. For a croaker fish, sometimes it’s RM1.50, sometimes just RM1.”

He shrugs as if to say, “What can you do?”

This burdensome life is shared by Saiful Baharain Ab Khair, 49, a fellow fisherman.

Saiful first took to the sea at 13 because of the poverty in which his family lived.

“As far as school was concerned, we had no money for it, we had no transport to take me there, and it was too far away for me to walk, so I was inclined to start work,” he said.

At first, he only accompanied and helped out his father, getting paid RM3 a day.

“Sometimes on a good day he’d give me maybe RM5. Whatever I got, I saved it all.”

Thanks to his prudence, Saiful eventually managed to become the proud owner of his own sampan while his peers were stuck in their secondary school classrooms gazing forlornly out of the windows.

In those days, a fisherman with his own sampan could make a pretty decent income given satisfactory catches and reasonable selling prices.

Those days have vanished.

Yields have been decreasing of late, particularly for coastal fishermen.

Some of the catch Zulkifli succeeds in netting.

The numbers of cockles, snails and clams on the shores are also decreasing. Saiful believes that’s caused by sewage water from paddy fields polluting the seawater.

Fishermen all along the coast are currently in dire straits because of the costs of purchasing necessary equipment and maintaining their boats as their catches continue to be underwhelming and uncertain.

“The highest we can get in a month is around RM1,000, but we usually get as little as RM300, these days.”

Saiful says that it’s imperative for coastal fishermen to be introduced to ways of earning additional income which will help them ease their ominous economic condition.

He looks as though he may soon get to the end of his mooring tether.

“If it’s possible for the Maritime Department to act on fishermen who aren’t supposed to be at sea, then why don’t they help out broken fishing homes?

“We only want to be able to earn a decent living, just enough to feed our families.

“I want the Fisheries Department and Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia to come and see just how we live and what our real conditions are like.

“Maybe then something will be done to help us.”