KUALA SELANGOR: Cockle farming in Malaysia seems to be getting rancid with thefts plaguing the business in Selangor, just five months after news emerged about ammonia contamination in Perak affecting the largest cockle breeding ground there.
The theft of spats (young cockles) had caused a drastic drop in Selangor’s production of the mussels, with its harvest of 40,000 tonnes annually dropping to 20,000 tonnes in recent years, said Selangor Fisheries Department director Azlisha Ab Aziz.
“What these people do is to install marker poles claiming ownership of the place and harvest the spats from the area,” he said.
This reduces the supply for registered farmers to collect and harvest them for the markets in Selangor.
A source said a syndicate could be involved by selling the spats to a neighbouring country for cultivation.
“There is a demand for Selangor cockles because many people find it better among all those harvested in Malaysian waters,” he said.
Selangor Fisheries Department officer Saufi Affandi Talib, when met during an exercise to pull out the illegal poles at Bagan Sungai Dorani recently, said cockle price in Selangor had shot up to about RM8 a kilogramme from about RM2 to RM4 a kilogramme within the last two to three months.
“Selangor used to be the top cockle producing state in the country but now we are No. 3 after Perak and Penang because of the decrease in spats for the licensed farmers to cultivate,” said Saufi Affandi.
He said it would take at least five to 10 years for the state’s cockle harvest to return to 40,000 tonnes annually.
“In Selangor, we have built many cultivation lots. Each lot, measuring 50ha, is managed by a group of six to 10 fishermen who are registered with us,” he said.
Licensed breeders pay an annual fee of RM20 to collect the spats manually from the mud flats or RM100 for the usage of mechanical aid.
Those wanting to collect cockle spats for cultivation must obtain a yearly permit of RM200.
He said the thieves installed markers just outside the lots to claim ownership of the area.
“Because of this, there is insufficient spats to be transferred to the lots managed by the fishermen,” said Saufi Affandi.
He said the spats were removed before reaching the permissible size of four millimetres.
These illegal stakes were made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyfibre and iron as opposed to the wooden ones used by licensed cultivators of cockles.
According to him, the Fisheries Department has been conducting exercises annually to pull out the illegal stakes.
“Our first raid this year was at Kampung Banting in Sabak Bernam where we removed 253 illegal marker stakes,” he said.
The second raid was at Bagan Nakhoda Omar, also in Sabak Bernam, where 1,115 stakes were taken away.
About 2,600 illegal stakes were pulled out in the raid at the Bagan Sungai Dorani.
Locals caught for cockle spat theft are fined RM500 while foreigners are fined RM2,500.
In Selangor, only traditional fishermen who are Malaysian citizens are qualified to obtain permits to harvest cockle spats and cultivate them.
The Fisheries Department has started a research to find out the factors which had reduced the state’s cockle supply.
The state government has also ordered a probe.