ABOUT 30 ornamental fish breeders have been given the chance to lease the land where their farms are located by the Perak state government in a letter dated Sept 30, 2014.
It is a letter they have been awaiting for almost three decades.
The exercise involves about 200 acres of land in Lawan Kuda and Sungei Itek in Gopeng.
The 15-year lease offer from Perbadanan Setiausaha Negri Perak (State Secretary Incorporated or SSI) is pegged at the rate of RM250 per acre a year.
The breeders have been give 14 days from the date of the letter to take up the offer.
Gopeng Ornamental Fish Breeders Association chairman Wong Yoke Thiam, 52, said the breeders were very grateful to SSI for the offer despite the fact that they had requested for a 30-year lease.
‘The lease gives us peace of mind and we can focus on our business for the next 15 years.
“We have been living in fear of eviction all this while,” said Wong.
He said the step-by-step application from the breeders to lease the land started in earnest about two years ago.
Then MCA president and Perak MCA chairman Tan Sri Dr Chua Soi Lek had appealed to Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir to give the breeders a chance to lease the land.
Perak executive councillor Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon was then appointed to a special committee to resolve the land problems faced by farmers and breeders in the state.
While thanking Dr Chua, Dr Mah and Gopeng MCA chairman Datuk Albert Chang in helping to resolve the long-standing land issue, Wong said he however felt sad that there were some other breeders who were not that fortunate.
Citing examples, he said 16 farmers, a majority of them ornamental fish breeders, had been issued a legal document by a private company via its lawyer dated Oct 30 last year asking them to evict.
“They will be evicted at any time,” he added.
There were also other breeders who were evicted over the years, including three breeders, one cattle breeder and one vegetable farmer in Sungei Itek about four years ago.
Like many other farmers, the five of them who had been toiling on a total of about 50 acres without a title or lease for many years, were evicted to make way for housing projects.
Fast track to the current scenario on the ornamental fish industry and Wong said the breeders had to face rising cost of doing business and increasingly stringent conditions from overseas like the European Union (EU)
“Our (breeders) price had only increased once, and that was only about 10% in the last 20 years.
“This is despite the fact that our costs; labour, fish feed, diesel and transportation cost had gone up many folds,” said Wong.
He said the export market was mostly in Asia, including China and Japan and also expanding to the Middle East.
“With the lease in hand now, we (breeders) can look into upgrading our farms to increase our competitive edge in the world market.”
Wong said the ornamental fish industry in Gopeng has an advantage and the potential to develop further because the natural environment in the area was conducive for the industry.
He said the Fisheries Department had also been very helpful to the breeders in helping them to meet the stringent farm conditions as required by overseas.
The EU officers, he added, would come to Gopeng next year to assess the fish farms again to consider re-opening its market to the breeders.
Ornamental fish breeder Chung Kow, 58, was visibly happy over the chance of getting a 15-year lease despite the fact that he, like other breeders, had been hoping for a 30-year lease.
Chung Kow, who was one of the breeders who were busy packing their fish for export in Lawan Kuda on Monday, said his son Chung Kar Fei, 27, was helping him to run their farm.
He said he lost his job in the construction industry in the 1980s, and took the plunge into ornamental fish rearing, following in the footsteps of some of his friends.
Many people in Gopeng who became jobless after the collapse of the tin mining industry had turned their ornamental fish rearing hobby into a source of livelihood.
They started to rear the fish in the former mining land and the mining ponds were their source of water.
“I am thinking of upgrading my farm, something that I had wanted to do in the last 20 years,” Kow said.
With a lease for his farm now, he said it would also enable him to hire foreign workers to help out.
“Many locals are not keen to work on a fish farm,” said Kow who works at least eight hours daily, starting from 8 am, and 365 days a year in the last two decades or more.