WOODEN fishing jetties and colourful boats are among the first things that invite visitors arriving at Perak’s Pangkor Island by ferry.
The jetties there are used to dock fishing boats and unload fish caught by the fishermen daily.
Even the homes of fishermen and their workers’ quarters are built on these jetties, while some parts are partitioned to store plastic buoys, fishing nets and tools.
Pangkor’s fishing industry is well over 100 years old with some fishermen being third generation.
Now, this traditional occupation and the island’s fishing industry on the whole face the threat of development at Sungai Pinang Kecil and Sungai Pinang Besar.
Fishermen in these two areas hear of plans for a mixed development project, which could lead to the demolition of the jetties and their homes.
The move is expected to affect the livelihood of more than 1,000 members of the fishing industry there.
Fishermen tell all
Kesatuan Pekerja-Pekerja Perikanan Pulau Pangkor president Beh Pek San is concerned because they are no longer allowed to renew their temporary occupation licence (TOL) for the jetties.
“The licence was supposed to be renewed every 10 years.
“The last time we were able to renew it was in 2012, but now we have been told that renewal will no longer be entertained,” he told StarMetro.
“Since then, there has been talk of a new project on our jetties, but no one has approached us to confirm this,” he said, adding that there are seven jetties at Sungai Pinang Kecil and Sungai Pinang Besar.
“I am the third generation in my family running our fishing business. We also live on the jetty.
“My workers consist of both locals and foreigners, who have families to feed.
“We will all be badly affected if the jetties are demolished,” said Beh, adding that they have adhered to all requirements, including paying the necessary fees for licences.
“We are in limbo as the project could take months to complete, which means we will not have any source of income even if the project will provide us with new fishing jetties,” he added.
In 2020, the state made known its plans to build a jetty complex to resolve the issue of congestion after the Sungai Pinang Kecil jetty was closed following implementation of the duty-free initiative in Pangkor.
The project is said to be under the Northern Corridor Economic Region, which includes development of commercial properties, fishermen’s jetties and shoplots.
Association secretary Ho Leong Ming, 50, said he spent more than RM2mil to maintain the jetty.
“We spent on metal pillars, collecting rubbish scattered under our jetty and repairing the floor to ensure the safety of our workers and tourists.
“I am the second generation in the family business and will soon hand it over to my son.
“But now I am worried about what will happen to us if the project destroys our jetty,” he said, adding that the industry generates 30% of the country’s supply of fish.
“Fishing is part of our heritage and it has been feeding our community and others for years.
“In fact, during the Covid-19 movement control order, we even supplied free fish to those who were in need.
“There are a lot of people relying on these fishing jetties,” he said, adding that he was prepared to do anything to protect the jetties.
“With less than five months before our licences expire, we are worried about our future,” he added.
Another fisherman, Teoh Wei Sheng, 36, said Pangkor needed to maintain its fishing villages.
“We are not as big as Langkawi and it only takes about 15 minutes by motorcycle to go around the island.
“The island is known for its fishing community, the small villages and the beautiful beaches.
“There is no need for Pangkor to be turned into a commercial island like Langkawi,” he said.
“Not only will the project impact the livelihood of fishermen, it will turn Pangkor into a different kind of place,” he said.
Teoh said since Pangkor was declared a duty-free island, it has benefitted tourists more than the local community.
“Prices of basic groceries and ferry tickets have increased.
“While it is great that more tourists are visiting our island, we hope the local communities are not being neglected by the state government,” he said.
Fearing loss of landmark
Student Khaleeja Suhaimi, 27, said the fishing jetties were probably one of the many trademarks of Pangkor.
“Coming from Ipoh, I often go to the island to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, so if I were to see these landmarks being demolished, I guess the essence of the island wouldn’t be there anymore,” she said.
“Tourists like me wouldn’t be able to witness, see or understand what makes Pangkor different from other islands, so I hope the state government will re-consider their project,” she added.
Society of Environmental Activists (Kuasa) community officer Nizam Rahman said the local community was not consulted on many projects on the island.
“We only found out about this development project during an online meeting attended by us, some community representatives as well as a representative from the Manjung District Office on April 6.
“During the meeting, we were informed that the project will include a coastal walk promenade, cultural hub, cycling lane, retail shops and more that require the relocation of the community at the proposed site,” said Nizam.
“The fishermen will definitely be affected and we hope the North Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) can clarify if folk from locations near the proposed site will also be asked to move.
“We are worried that if the local community is not being consulted first and if the project goes ahead, it would be too late for the community to object to it.
“Any development projects should prioritise the safety and the well-being of the public, not for the developers’ benefit only,” he added.
Authorities studying project
NCIA chief executive Mohamad Haris Kader Sultan said the development project focused mainly on the redevelopment of the Pangkor passenger and cargo jetty.
“We are still studying the aspects of the project, including the impact assessment on aspects of the socio-economy, environment, regulatory and business sustainability.
“All stakeholders such as the federal and state governments, relevant agencies and local communities will be engaged to ensure holistic input is incorporated in the study, with the goal of developing Pangkor into a duty-free island and tourism hub,” he said.
He added that a study on the project was expected to be completed by the end of the third quarter.
“The proposed development is estimated to add about RM262mil to Malaysia’s gross domestic product and create over 4,400 new jobs.
“It will also include an economic spillover impact from the increased tourists’ arrival and receipts,” he said.
Perak housing, local government, and tourism committee chairman Datuk Nolee Ashilin Mohammed Radzi said the upgrade of the existing jetty was crucial for the island.
“The current jetty is no longer capable of handling the growing number of visitors.
“As with any government project, due diligence and assessment reports will be made before the commencement of the project, including giving consideration to the views of the local community,” she said.
“The state government will always take into consideration the interests of stakeholders.”
She added that the project was still in the research stage.
“No decision has been made yet on the development as well as the relocation of the fishing community there,” she said.
Nolee also said that state Economic Planning Unit was still studying the budget required for the project.
As at press time, the state government has not been able to answer to the fishermen’s complaints about failure to renew the TOL for their jetties for another 10 years, as has been the practice in the past.