As the son of a fisherman, Shalan Jum’at has witnessed, all his life, how hard it was for his dad to earn a decent wage from their honest day’s work. Desiring to see the fishermen in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, earn a fair wage for their hard labour, Shalan started Pasar Pendekar Laut (Sea Warriors’ Market) at Gelang Patah, Johor, several years ago.
“I saw the struggles that my father and other fishermen had to go through just to put food on the table, only to be exploited by wealthy middlemen who would pay a pittance for the catch but resell it at high prices in markets in the city,” says the 35-year-old fisherman-turned-entrepreneur.
“I resolved to protect my father and the other fishermen from being exploited further. That’s why I started Pasar Pendekar Laut in 2016,” he explains.
Shalan reveals that since he was a child, he had always followed his father out to sea.
“I saw how hard he toiled, and how he often had to brave the dangers at sea and sometimes even heavy storms just to earn a living,” he says.
“During mealtimes, my father would often tell us that the big fish aren’t good for eating because they’re hard and not tasty, so we would only have small fish during meal time.
“But the truth is that he had to sell the big fish just to put rice on the table,“ recalls Shalan, who is the fourth of 11 siblings.
Inspired by P. Ramlee’s Pendekar Bujang Lapuk film, Shalan was determined to do something to help the fishermen whom he felt were being “bullied” by the middlemen.
Shalan would often get into disagreements with them because he felt it was unfair and that they were taking advantage of the poor fishermen.
“Without the fishermen, these middlemen wouldn’t have anything to sell so they should at least offer the fishermen a decent price for their catch. But they often offer a lump sum for an entire catch, which means the fishermen end up earning less. And, when they return to the city, these middlemen would segregate the fish according to grades and sell them at many times over the price originally purchased from the fishermen,” he says indignantly.
“I wanted my father and the other fishermen to get paid a reasonable amount for their catch.”
Shalan started out working with only three fishermen who would send their fish and other seafood to his market; but now, there are about 40 of them.
More than a business for profit, Pasar Pendekar Laut’s purpose is to help the fishermen earn a reasonable income, says Shalan. The fishermen who send their catch to his market are paid up to 90% of the market price.
“Usually middlemen want to make a profit of about RM10 per fish so they will often ‘squeeze’ the fisherman for a very low price. But for me, even if I only get a profit of RM1-RM2, it’s ok because the purpose of Pasar Pendekar Laut is to help the fishermen. For example, if the market price for a particular fish is RM35, I will give the fishermen RM33 which is much higher than they’d get otherwise,” he says.
Since Pasar Pendekar Laut started, the fishermen are now able to earn double of what they used to before.
Shalan adds that the costs the fishermen have to bear, including diesel for their boat engines, also have to be taken into consideration when buying from them.
“Our business is more geared toward providing assistance to the fishermen and what’s important is that they’re happy with what they’re getting,” he says, adding that he himself is happy that he’s gained their trust and they’ve also become united as a community.
Shalan usually pools his earnings back into the market and towards helping the fishermen repair and upgrade their fishing equipment such as nets and boat engines.
Solution to pandemic woes
During the first movement control order last year, there was the issue of seafood dumping because fishermen just weren’t able to sell their catch.
Shalan, with the help of his wife, environmental scientist and anthropologist Dr Serina Rahman, decided to do something to help. They decided to raise the funds to purchase the seafood and send it to underprivileged families in the area.
“At that time, prawns, crabs, fish were plentiful and the fishermen were very worried about how to sell them, so my wife suggested that we raise funds to purchase the seafood and then send them to the homes of the needy,” he says.
“My wife reached out to her friends in KL and Singapore, who donated money to buy the fish and we worked with the Malaysian Red Crescent Society Malaysia to send the fish to shelters and homes for the underprivileged, and also to the urban poor who live in the PPR low-cost flats, in Johor Baru and Gunung Pulai,” he says.
“We managed to raise RM80,000 in three months for this initiative, and it was good to see the underprivileged having the opportunity to eat good quality seafood such as grouper, snapper, barracuda, mackerel and queen fish, that they’ve never had the chance to taste before,” says Shalan.
But even though his aim is to help the fishermen, Shalan does not compromise when it comes to quality.
“I’m very particular about the quality of my seafood. Take for example, the crabs, which come in three grades. We’ll throw the small crabs back into the sea so that they can continue to grow, and choose the crabs that are alive and full of meat,” he says.
“And, we only sell what is freshly caught. We don’t keep the fish, crabs or prawns overnight at the market, and we don’t use any chemicals to store them,” he adds.
His customers comprise people from the nearby kampungs and all over Johor who want to eat fresh seafood, middlemen who have their own market in the city, and entrepreneurs who buy the fish to sell online.
During the MCOs, there are more online entrepreneurs coming to buy because most people aren’t able to go out to get the seafood themselves, he says.
Shalan says that he has learnt how to upload videos about his seafood on social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and WhatsApp stories so that people will know what they have to offer at the market.
“But it isn’t easy because there’s no (Internet) connection at the market so sometimes, it doesn’t load until we go further inshore,” he says.
“A lot of customers will contact me by phone or WhatsApp to place their orders,” he adds.
Building a future
Besides the market, the enterprising Shalan – together with his wife – also founded Kelab Alami, a social enterprise that provides youth in the community with entrepreneurship opportunities and skills training.
He has a warung (small restaurant) in the vicinity and the youth from Kelab Alami run it.
“Before the pandemic, this helped the fishermen and the youth because people would buy fish from the jetty and have it cooked at the warung where they would sit to eat. Of course, during the pandemic, this hasn’t been possible,” he says.
Although his future plans include starting more Pasar Pendekar Laut at other locations to help more fishermen, he doesn’t foresee it happening any time soon.
“There is so much more to do here, and especially now, due to the pandemic,” he says.