TUMPAT: At 3am, 60-year-old Rasik Jusoh is out and about, preparing his brightly painted fishing boat for another day at sea.
While the atmosphere around Pengkalan Kubor is still heavy with slumber, the fishing docks in the small town are already abuzz with activity - fishermen preparing nets, hauling storage boxes and fastening ‘bubu’, a traditional bamboo fish trap, to their boats.
“From the dock, it is about a two and a half to three hours ride out to sea. Once we’ve crossed the five nautical mile limit, we are allowed to cast our nets,” said Rasik, who operates a small zone ‘A’ boat.
On an average day, the father of nine can manage a haul of about 25 kilograms of various fish, which is then sold near the Pengkalan Kubor Fisheries Development Authority (LKIM) complex.
The boats utilised by fishermen here range in size and capacity - from the smallest zone ‘A’ boats to the larger zone ‘C’ boats which are used for deep water fishing and on average, stay away from shore for more than ten days at a time.
While the preferred method is by casting nets, some fisherman also make use of ‘bubu’, a trap which is left out at sea for four to five days before being hauled up again with catch.
According to Azmi, 51, the fishing tradition in Pengkalan Kubor goes back generations.
“Our grandfathers are fishermen, our fathers are fishermen and so are we. The same goes for the farmers here. These are family occupations,” he said.
Azmi explained what many have also said about the residents of Pengkalan Kubor - the fishermen, too, are not party-based voters but prioritise the qualities that each candidate brings to the table.
In Pengkalan Kubor, 70% of voters are either fishermen or farmers. As the race to secure the support of the people in the area becomes steadily more pressing, it is evident that the candidate who champions the rights of these two groups will be the one who will emerge victorious in elections.
For now, the fisherman say that they are happy with the services provided.
“Our homes were repaired and we were issued equipment such as three-wheeled bicycles to transport our catch,” said Azmi.
He explained that the welfare of fishermen was well taken care of by late Barisan National assemblyman Datuk Noor Zahidi Omar.
When queried on which areas can be improved further, Azmi said that the five nautical mile limit has caused difficulty among fishermen as fish are harder to come by with the regulation in place.
The problem is especially felt by operators of small boats who fear going out into sea during the monsoon period which can last for about two to three months.
A few other fishermen listening in to the conversation also chipped in their suggestions - such as increasing subsistence allowance.
In the mornings in Pengkalan Kubor town, Tuan Yacob Wan Ismail can be spotted walking one of his 40 goats around with a leash.
A fishing boat operator with three ‘zone C’ boats, the silver-haired Yacob enjoys his daily leisurely strolls, guiding one his goats along and making small talk with friends he comes across.
“Rearing goats is a hobby of mine,” he said, giving a generously toothy smile.
The 63-year-old approves of the excitement and spotlight centred around Pengkalan Kubor over the by-election as it gives him an added excuse to socialise with new faces.
“The mood is very festive with the by-election - people are coming from far away. I am very happy I managed to make friends from Terengganu and even Johor,” he said.
“The voters here are different from other places, they are candidate-based voters,” said Tuan Yacob, echoing the words of Azmi.
A good-natured man, Tuan Yaob shared the plights faced by fishermen in the area as his black goat shied away from strangers and hid behind his owner’s legs.
As reported by many fishermen in the area, Vietnamese trawlers have been illegally trespassing into Malaysian waters and depleting fishing resources.
Tuan Yacob explained that these trawlers use sophisticated equipment and fishing practices which are illegal by Malaysian law.
As polling day draws closer, political banners and posters are raised and draped around Pengkalan Kubor, transforming the small fishing town and surround villages.
Pengkalan Kubor, which is in the Tumpat parliamentary constituency, was held by three-time assemblyman Noor Zahidi before his passing from lung cancer on Aug 20.
In the 2013 general election, Noor Zahidi beat Saharun Ibrahim and independent Izat Bukhary Ismail Bukhary with a majority of 1,736 votes. Noor Zahidi also won the seat in 2004, when Pengkalan Kubor was contested by PAS.
The other three state seats in the Tumpat - Kelaboran, Pasir Pekan and Wakaf Baru - are held by PAS.
The Pengkalan Kubor by-election will be held on Sept 25. This time, the three-way contest is between Barisan's Mat Razi Mat Ail, PAS' Wan Rosdi Wan Ibrahim and Independent candidate Izat Bukhary.