Climate change, overfishing lead to smaller catches in Terengganu

Diyana Ibrahim

Traditional fishermen at Tok Jembal beach, Terengganu lament that their catch has declined drastically since January. – The Malaysian Insight pic, May 19, 2023.

THE price of fish has skyrocketed at the marketplace due to climate change and uncontrolled fishing activities, a marine researcher from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) said.

Fishing technology machinery and fisheries ecology senior lecturer Mohd Fazrul Hisam Abd Aziz said these factors have caused the fish hauls in Terengganu waters to decline.

He said fish resources along the state’s coastline will continue to drop if this scenario is allowed to continue, which in turn will threaten the country’s food security.

“The threat is great considering that fish is categorised as a cheap source of protein that is the choice of the low- and middle-income people.

“Compared to chicken or beef, our country recognises fish as a source of protein that is cheaply available,” he said.

Fazrul said seafood consumption in Malaysia is also the second highest in Southeast Asia with an estimated average of 50kg per citizen each year.

“But with the current scenario, we are facing a lack of fish supply and I can say that the decline has been drastic.

“If this trend continues, it is not impossible that one day we will lose our source of seafood and will not be able to meet the needs of Malaysians,” he said.

Fazrul was commenting on a report by The Malaysian Insight about the complaints of traditional fishermen at Tok Jembal beach, Terengganu on their deteriorating catch.

The fishing community said the situation has been happening since January this year and has discouraged many of them from going out to sea.

They said the diminishing fish hauls not only affect the income of fishermen but also causes the price of fish to shoot up.

According to data from conservation body World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the supply of fish in Malaysian waters has decreased between 80% and 90%.

Data from the Fisheries Department revealed that the country lost 96% of its national fish supply stock in 60 years as a result of uncontrolled fishing activities.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu marine researcher Mohd Fazrul Hisam Abd Aziz  says the size of fish caught in Terengganu waters is shrinking between 10% and 15% compared to the normal size of other species. – The Malaysian Insight pic, May 19, 2023.

Fish getting smaller

Fazrul said based on his observations, the size of fish was shrinking between 10% and 15% compared to the normal size of various species.

He also said fish breeding depends on food, habitat and ecological factors.

“It is clear that ecological factors such as changes in water quality and in sea temperature linked to climate change can affect the quality and distribution of food.

“So if this happens, it will affect the fishes’ habitat and when the habitat is disturbed, the food source is affected.

“Just like other marine life, it will look for a suitable place and with the current situation, there is a possibility that the fish will migrate to a more suitable environment,” he said.

Since 2019 there has been a price increase of about 30-80% for selected fishes.

The market price of mackerel (kembung) in Terengganu is around RM20-RM22 per kg compared to RM13 per kg in 2019 (last five years).

The latest price of selar is between RM18 and RM20 per kg compared to RM13 per kg five years ago.

The price of selayang is as much as RM14 per kg compared to RM10 per kg in 2019.

Kerisi is now selling for between RM10 and RM13 per kg compared to RM9 per kg half a decade ago.

Data from the Fisheries Department reveal the country has lost 96% of its national fish supply stock within 60 years as a result of uncontrolled fishing activities. – The Malaysian Insight pic, May 19, 2023.

Unregulated fishing activities

As for uncontrolled fishing activities, Fazrul said it had a huge impact that contributed to the decline in the haul of fishes.

He said unregulated fishing activities are always linked to the use of trawls that collect all types of seafood, including fish that should not be caught.

He said, the use of these nets are still not good from one point of view, but it is necessary to increase the catch to meet the demand of the seafood market.

“But if the operation of using nets is not carried out prudently then there will be excessive catch.

“There is also demand for by-catch as it is used to make fish fertiliser for aquaculture projects or farmed fish.

“So the demand is very high, causing excessive fishing activity and it certainly has impacted the ecosystem of marine life,” Fazrul said, adding that strict enforcement should be imposed.

He said currently there is no law that says immature fish cannot be caught.

“There is only an awareness programme, but it may not reach the community and industry players. This is also one of the efforts that we should focus on,” he said.

The price of selected fishes have increased about 30-80% since 2019. – The Malaysian Insight pic, May 19, 2023.

Fish farming project, build fish habitat

Fazrul also said UMT has mobilised the project of anchoring “unjam” (fish enclosures) and aquaculture livestock with the fishing community as a solution to protect the country’s fisheries resources.

Unjam is a traditional method that works to attract the presence of many fishes.

He said the project to make 80 unjam with the fishing community had started at the beginning of May and was expected to be completed by the middle or end of June.

“Unjam, which functions as a home and food for this fish habitat, will be placed around the coastal waters of Tok Jembal.

“This effort is very important for us to protect and increase new fish habitats as a measure to overcome the crisis of declining fish stock,” he said.

Fazrul said it is the same with catfish farming carried out together with the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority.

He said the aquaculture project will help fishermen get a side income during the season when they cannot go out to sea because the fish yield is reduced.

He also urged all parties including the Fisheries Department, scientists and the community to work together to prevent the impact of declining fish supply. – May 19, 2023.

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