Agriculture Minister may ask for reclamation project's EIA approval to be withdrawn

BALIK PULAU: The Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry may submit a proposal for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval for the controversial Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project to be withdrawn.

Deputy Agriculture and Food Industries Minister II Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi (pic) said the proposal may be submitted to the Department of Environment (DoE).

He said there was a possibility that his ministry may also propose to the DoE and the Environment and Water Ministry not to approve the Environment Management Plan (EMP) for the project as well.

“There is always a possibility for us to do that and we will examine our role in this matter,” he told reporters after a working visit to the Teluk Kumbar fishermen’s market on Wednesday (June 16).

Che Abdullah said he was made to understand that 87 species of fish will come under threat by the project, such as silver pomfret, as well as tiger prawns.

He pointed out that former Agriculture and Food Industries minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub in 2019 had asked the Penang state government to conduct two studies before embarking on the reclamation project.

The two studies are the “ontogenetic migration of peanaus merguiensis and metapenaeus ensis” (white prawns) and on the “impact of dredging and reclamation of PSI on the two prawn population and their fisheries, one year cycle complete” as well as a “noise pollution impact on fish due to dredging and reclamation of PSR”.

“I was made to understand that the noise pollution study has just started with the sampling location identified while the migration study of prawns is yet to start.

So, the question is - why is the state rushing to commence the project when these important mitigation steps have not been completed?” he questioned.

Che Abdullah said Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had responded to his earlier statement that a passageway will be prepared for fishermen to go out to sea.

"But we are not talking about passageways. We are talking about the destruction of fish breeding grounds and a total loss of livelihood for our fishermen that cannot be replaced by any compensation or ex-gratia package.

"The state government has claimed that the fishermen can have other jobs to get stable income with contributions to the Employees’ Provident Fund.

"We do not want to close down the whole fishing industry by getting the fishermen other jobs. This is belittling the fishing profession,” he said.

He added that the reclamation project will also destroy the biodiversity and natural habitat of marine life.

"The sites marked for reclamation are sensitive areas as these are breeding and feeding grounds and the main migration paths for prawns," he said.

He said Penang has increased its fish output by 5% between 2019 and 2020 from 51,695 metric tonnes to 56,849 metric tonnes.

It was reported that Chow had said the fishermen would be given bigger boats and more powerful engines, on top of ex-gratia payments, to allow traditional fishermen living near the reclamation project areas to venture further out to sea for better catches.

Chow said that many things had been planned to ensure the well-being of traditional fishing communities living in the vicinity of the reclamation sites.

These include business and job opportunities, training, free tuition, scholarships and educational opportunities for young fishermen and their children, and housing initiatives.

Four modern jetties in Permatang Tepi Laut, Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar and Gertak Sanggul will also be built for the fishermen.

Chow was further quoted as saying that technology and engineering advancement will allow the state to bring the project to fruition while preserving the environment at the same time.

"The state has obtained the approval for the Hydraulics Study, Traffic Impact Assessment Report, Marine Traffic Risk Assessment Report and the Social Impact Assessment Report.

“The EIA report, which also includes the Fisheries Impact Assessment, was also approved by the DoE,” he said.

The other conditions, said Chow, touched on the EMP, which the state had recently resubmitted for approval.

As per the project’s EIA approval, Penang is obligated to build artificial reefs, fish aggregating devices, increase mangrove planting, release fish fry, build eco-engineering structures, fund studies and research, as well as launch many other programmes.

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