Selangor fishermen are no longer assured of bountiful cockle harvests. Sea pollution is to blame for the disappearing clams, they say.
In May 2012, fisherman Kahar Buntal had a shock when he hauled up his harvest of blood cockles from the sea – it was mostly empty shells. This happened throughout the entire season which spanned six months. “The yield for that year was low. We estimated that half of the harvest was dead,” recalls the 62-year-old from Bagan Sungai Buloh, a fishing settlement in Jeram, off Kuala Selangor.
“In past seasons, almost 90% of the harvest was healthy cockles. But that isn’t the case anymore these days. The dwindling population and slow growth rate are signs of deteriorating water quality in the cockles’ breeding environment. We couldn’t harvest anything last year because of the cockles’ delayed growth. It took one year and two months for them to reach the size that previously took just seven or eight months,” Kahar laments.
He started harvesting cockles in 2007 and is one of 20 licensed cockle collectors in Bagan Sungai Buloh. Alongside areas in Sekinchan and Bagan Nakhoda Omar, the 40ha site is part of the northern Selangor mudflats that harbour Peninsular Malaysia’s main cockle culture area.
Scientifically known as Anadara granosa, blood cockles feed a market demand that's reflective of the public’s voracious appetite for them, whether tossed in char kway teow or lightly blanched. What worries Kahar and other fishermen is that supply can no longer keep up with demand, based on his seasonal rakes that show declining numbers of clams and moderately high mortality.
“In the past, we could harvest at least 30 sacks of cockles weighing 68kg each in a day. Now our yields are halved to about 16 or 17 sacks. The situation went downhill in 2012 after pollution became really bad. Last year, the black water reeked, and my hands itched after coming into contact with the water,” says Kahar.
His son, Mohd Fadillah Kahar, 28, also a cockle collector, says even till today, the smell is especially nauseating during low tide.