Hoping to keep head above water

Workers sorting barramundi at the Sungai Udang jetty in Nibong Tebal. — Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The Star

WHILE fish farmers are suffering from slow sales like those in other businesses during the movement control order, there is an upside for those who love to eat fish.

Fish, being cold-blooded, can live on less food unlike other livestock.

Sungai Udang fishermen’s unit chief Khor Hai Khean is not too worried.

“Those swimming in our fish cages will continue to grow slowly and once the economy recovers, people will be enjoying bigger fishes at good prices, ” said Khor who is also a fish farmer.

The floating fish farms off Sungai Udang in south Seberang Prai in Penang are the most numerous in peninsular Malaysia, dwarved only by Sabah’s sea fish farms.

The more than 150 floating fish farms, visible to motorists using the second Penang bridge to get to the island, produce enough to meet demand not just locally but from Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

Besides common table fish like snappers, barramundi and pomfrets, the farmers also produce famed fishes like the dragon-tiger grouper, an exotic delicacy for restaurants.

The farmers saw a plunge in demand for their fish during the recent Chinese New Year festive period due to restaurant closures.

“In my 40 years selling fish,this is the worst, ” said fish wholesaler Ng Hooi Kek, 65, who sells pomfrets, threadfins and groupers.

“I used to sell at least three to four baskets of fish daily but now,

I cannot even sell a basket.

“Due to high supply, prices of fish are down by about 15% to 20% and while this drop may sound insignificant, it’s a huge portion of our profit, ” he said at the jetty.

At Sungai Udang jetty, boats can be seen landing barrels of fish harvested from the floating farms.

The public are prohibited from accessing the jetty to buy fish like before.

Only certain traders and local residents are allowed to enter the site.

Nearby at a warehouse, 38-year-old fish farmer Teoh Tiang Hor said he now supplies 90% of his fish to Singapore as local demand has dropped by half.

“I used to harvest between five and six tonnes of fish daily but I harvest only between two and three tonnes a day now.

“My regular customers from Selangor, who are mostly restaurant owners, have all stopped orders.

“Profit is low this year and I still have to maintain seven workers on the farm, ” he said.

Teoh said while groupers remained popular for feasts, there had been an increase in demand for red snappers as a common table fish.

“It’s just a trend, I guess, ” he said, adding that the red snappers require about two years to mature into sizes between two and three kilogrammes.

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