The whispers are back at Pasar Bisik

Ask and you shall receive: The price whispering practice seen in full swing at Pasar Bisik in Kuala Muda, on the Kedah side of the Kedah-Penang border. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

KEPALA BATAS: Whispering to each other was impossible during the Covid-19 pandemic, but now that life is back to normal, the unique hush of the Pasar Bisik fisherman’s market is back.

For two years, during the movement control order, fishermen and buyers at Pasar Bisik in Kota Kuala Muda were forced to break their century-old tradition of conducting sales by murmuring into each other’s ears.

Due to physical distancing rules, buyers and sellers at this market on the Kedah-Penang border had to haggle out loud.

But a recent visit found that the “old normal” is back.

Coastal fishermen come ashore and immediately haul their catches to the market floor.

It is so fresh that the prawns and crabs are still moving. But nothing is weighed or sorted and no offer prices are displayed.

Instead, the fishermen simply wait quietly for interested buyers to whisper their bids after assessing the value of the catch by sight alone; the whispering is meant to keep the deals private and confidential.

This has gone on for over a century, and is also the practice in fishing villages in Japan and the Philippines.

Norasiah Ramli, 49, from Kuala Lumpur, said she was surprised to see how business was conducted at Pasar Bisik.

“I was shocked when the fisherman refused to entertain my queries about his prawns, but instead asked me to whisper the price to him,” she said.

The housewife said after a few failed bids, she was happy to finally obtain slightly over a kilo of prawns for RM80.

“These were the freshest prawns I ever bought,” she said.Another visitor, Mahizan Mokhtar, 40, from Sungai Dua, said he was a regular at Pasar Bisik.

“Normally, I will buy two or three kilos of fish and sometimes prawns or crabs,” he said.

A weighing scale is placed at one side of the market’s pavilion for buyers to weigh their purchases and one such buyer was seen weighing a kilo of threadfin fish (senangin), which she bought for RM25.

In other markets, the price would be about RM30 to RM40.

But the fishermen lament that their daily catches are dwindling because of deepsea trawlers plying near their fishing grounds.

Nazrin Othman, 46, who has been a coastal fisherman for 20 years, said the trawlers’ heavy nets damaged the seabed and the breeding areas.

Another fisherman, Ariffin Mat, 56, claimed to have seen large trawlers from neighbouring countries encroaching into coastal areas.

Meanwhile, fisherman Yassir Hamid, 55, urged the government to sink more artificial reefs, as they are good breeding grounds for fish and snag big trawler nets.

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