Fishing boats lined up at the coast of Gertak Sanggul in Penang, September 13, 2021. — Pictures by Sayuti Zainudin
GEORGE TOWN, Sept 17 — There are about 700 fishermen and residents in Permatang Damar Laut who are fully supportive of the controversial three-island reclamation project off the southern coast of Penang island, according to some veteran fishermen there.
One of them is Fajinah Jaafar, 60, who has been fishing off the coast of Permatang Damar Laut for over 40 years.
The single mother has relied on fishing as her main source of income to raise her two sons for decades and she fully believes that the proposed reclamation project will be beneficial for fishermen and residents in the area.
“We were promised a new 27-feet boat with a 75 horsepower engine and ex-gratia payment enough to buy new trawls each and I trust that SRS will not lie to us,” she said in an interview with Malay Mail yesterday.
Fajinah Jaafar, 60, speaks to Malay Mail regarding the Penang South Reclamation project that was put on halt at Gertak Sanggul in Penang, September 13, 2021.
She said it was a lie that the reclamation project, Penang South Reclamation (PSR), will cause fishermen off that coast to lose their source of income.
“If they want to say any development on this side will cause marine life to disappear forever, just look at the second Penang bridge,” she said.
She said it was only during construction that fish and seafood had seen a reduction in the area, but after it was completed, the fish and prawns returned about one to two years later.
She hoped the project will be approved and work will start soon as it means project delivery partner, SRS Consortium, will immediately provide the new boats, engines and ex-gratia payment promised to the fishermen.
“I can only appeal and plead with the government and the Department of Environment to approve the project soon because we need this project,” she said.
Haris Abdullah, 61, speaks to Malay Mail regarding the Penang South Reclamation project that was put on halt at Gertak Sanggul in Penang, September 13, 2021.
Another fisherman, Haris Abdullah, 61, who has also been fishing off that coast for 42 years, said even now, fishermen from other areas as far as Perak and Kedah come over to the coast off Permatang Damar Laut.
“This is proof that marine life will come back once construction is over and in fact, more might even come back,” Haris said.
Fajinah said the three islands, once completed, will provide a safe haven for fish and prawns to breed so in future, there might be more fertile fishing grounds because of the reclaimed islands.
“In the short term, us fishermen will get a boost as we will each be getting new boats, new powerful engines and new trawls that will help us to fish further out in sea,” she said.
She said her boat is now over 20 years old and it often breaks down, causing her to lose her income for days and repairs could cause from a few hundred ringgit to thousands.
“Even now, my engine broke down and I am expecting at least a few hundred ringgit to repair and I’ve not been able to go out to sea to work,” she said.
Haris stressed that all of the fishermen in that area are in the B40 group or even living below the poverty line, barely able to eke out a living so getting new boats, new powerful engines and new trawls meant that it will give them a better chance at earning a living from fishing.
“Many of them can’t afford to repair their old boats so each time it breaks down, they suffer but getting new boats will mean solving this main problem for them,” he said.
Another veteran fisherman, Idris Ismail, 66, has been fishing off the coast in Teluk Kumbar for over 52 years.
“I am old, it doesn’t even matter to me whether they reclaim or don’t reclaim but I want to support this project because it means a brighter future for my grandchildren and their children,” he said.
Idris Ismail, 66, speaks to Malay Mail regarding the Penang South Reclamation project that was put on halt at Gertak Sanggul in Penang, September 13, 2021.
He said Penang needs to continue to develop and expand its manufacturing sector and the three islands will help the state to do this.
“We need job opportunities for our grandchildren and their children, we don’t want them to be fishermen like us, we want them to get good stable jobs,” he said.
The three fishermen also questioned Sungai Batu fishermen unit chief Zakaria Ismail’s motive in appealing against the Department of Environment’s (DoE) approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the PSR.
“He said he has 185 fishermen supporting his appeal but who are they? I have 700 people whom I personally know are supportive of PSR,” Fajinah said.
They also claimed that Zakaria had not gone out to sea for more than a year and that he was only the unit chief for a year.
“He has only been fishing for nine years… compared to us, he knows nothing about the sea,” she said.
Fajinah Jaafar (left), 60, and Haris Abdullah (right), 61, checking the fishing net on a boat at Gertak Sanggul in Penang September 13, 2021.
All three of them had no qualms challenging Zakaria to a debate on fishing and the pros and cons of the PSR project to the fishing community in the area.
“We have more experience here and we know we need this project in order to become more developed and more advanced for our future generations,” they said.
Last week, Zakaria’s appeal against the EIA of the PSR was allowed, thus making the approval null and void.
The Penang state government has since said it will seek a judicial review against the Appeal Board’s decision.
PSR has been the subject of controversy for years since it was introduced with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and some fishermen’s groups protesting against it.
In recent months, the project has become a political issue with politicians from both sides of the political divide weighing in on it where even some PKR leaders have asked for the project to be reviewed.
The PSR is a massive reclamation project to create three islands off the southern coast of Penang island.
The islands, loosely named A, B and C, will measure a total 4,500 acres (1,821 ha) in land size off the coast from Permatang Damar Laut.
The PSI project was first introduced back in 2015 as the funding module of the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) after SRS Consortium was appointed as the project delivery partner (PDP) for the PTMP on August 14, 2015.