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Fish getting more expensive to eat

The price of a fish has increased together with fuel prices. -My Sinchew/ANN
Lim Sue Goan

Wed, Jun 15, 2011
My Sinchew/Asia News Network

MALAYSIA - Like many others, I love eating fish and have been affected by the nationwide strike carried out by deep-sea fishing trawler operators.

The government has to cut the fuel subsidy for deep-sea vessels C2 because the burden is too heavy and some fishermen have actually sole subsidised fuel to gain profits.

Meanwhile, the operators said that they would have to lose about RM10,000 (S$4,064) every time they go to sea for fishing after the subsidy cut. They have no choice but to carry out the strike as they cannot afford the loss.

The problem is, a short period of strike would not affect much as imports from Thailand could be increased while there are also reserves to temporarily meet local demand.

The strike would be effective only if it continues for a long period of time. However, how long could the involved fishermen survive without earnings?

Even if over a thousand of them wish to join other industries, many of them have already been in their middle age and it might not be easy for them to switch career paths.

Most importantly, they must resolve the crux of the problem, overcome the impacts brought by high oil prices and resume work.

Under the "People First" concept of governance, the authorities should also change their attitude and help fishing operators resolve the problems. If the fishing industry collapses, it would undermine national interests. Importing fish from neighbouring countries is, after all, not a long-term solution.

There are two factors causing the plight of fishing operators, namely backwardness and soaring costs.

Fisheries is part of the agricultural sector. Since the whole agricultural sector is falling behind, there is no exceptional for the fisheries.

I can still recall that during the administration of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the government encouraged deep-sea fishing. A Malaysia - Thailand joint deep-sea fishing company was set up with a vow to adopt Thai fishing technology and provide training for local fishermen.

Some fishermen had also responded to the call and upgraded their B fishing trawlers to C2 vessels. A new C2 vessel cost about RM2 million and there are about 1,200 C2 vessels in the country.

Time flew and no expected result was shown. Instead, various kinds of issues surfaced, including foreign navies intervention, threats from pirates, invasion of foreign fishing vessels, as well as manpower shortage.

Strikes from fishing operators have taken place over the years and some operators did not go to sea due to the massive illegal worker crackdown in 2007.

According to Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Deputy Minister Datuk Wira Mohd Johari Baharum, the Ali Baba operation in which crony companies lease their licences for deep-sea fishing to foreign trawlers has allowed them to enjoy at least RM5,000 of revenue per month.

With natural deficiencies and the lack of a long-term development and management strategy, fisheries is now facing various kinds of problems. The fuel issue alone seems to be able to collapse the whole industry.

In fact, the government might learn from Thailand in assisting fishermen to overcome difficulties brought by high fuel prices.

Thailand is the third largest marine fishing nation in Asia after Japan and China. However, Thailand does not produce oil. The Thai government lets deep-sea vessels stay at sea while the catches would be brought back by small fishing boats to reduce fuel consumption. Also, its government helps some fishermen to join other areas of the industry such as becoming helpers in fish processing factories, as well as cultivating and breeding fish and shrimps.

Thai fishermen have predicted that the fishing industry would be gone in a few years time. If Malaysia takes no action to solve the problems, we will someday have to bear high fish prices.

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