TAIPING: There may not be any cockles in our markets by July if those bred near here keep dying, say long-time cockle farmers in Perak.
According to Cockle Farmers Association president Koay Seng Lam, thousands of cockles that are bred for human consumption are dying in Kuala Sepetang, about 16km from here.
“Since March, what used to be a bountiful harvest of cockles has turned into a harvest consisting of mostly empty shells,” said Koay, who put the drop in yield this month in the region of 90%.
“While the yield was getting less and less since last year, it has never been this serious,” he said.
“In the past, we could harvest at least two tonnes of live cockles within two hours. Now, we barely make it past 50kg after five hours.
“Even so, many of them turn out to be just empty shells,” he said yesterday.
Noting that the harvested cockles were also smaller, Koay said fishermen could not afford to wait for them to grow any larger.
“If we wait any longer, they might all be dead, and there would be nothing for us to harvest,” he said.
Kuala Sepetang is home to the largest cockle breeding ground in the country, supplying the shellfish throughout Malaysia and Singapore.
Cockles are ingredients for dishes like char koay teow, curry noodles and lok lok.
Koay said, should the industry collapse, many workers would be forced to look for other jobs.
“There used to be more than 200 fishermen and cockle breeders a few years back, but there are only about 50 now,” he said.
He suspects that poor water and mud quality could have led to the dwindling numbers.
“We need to know the cause scientifically before cockles totally disappear from our markets,” he said.
Cockle breeders who hold temporary occupancy licences are required to pay RM100 per year for every 0.4ha of sea bed they use for cockle breeding.
“If we aren’t earning enough or none at all from cockle sales, we appeal to the government to waive our renewal fees.”