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Trawling for new opportunities

Trawling for new opportunities

Published by The Star • 12/7/2023

FOR generations, veteran fisherman Idris Ismail and his family have relied on traditional methods and small boats to earn a living near Pulau Kendi, a rocky isle 4km southwest of Penang island.


The 68-year-old hopes the Penang South Island (PSI) reclamation project will improve the living standards of fishermen in the vicinity.


Three of his seven children are also fishermen.


Idris, of Teluk Kumbar, said the next generation of fishermen should embrace development if they intend to remain in the fishing industry.


“With the growing population, there is a need to develop the industry.


“It needs to be modernised with improved technology and advanced methods.


“Although I am too old for it, my children are ready to adopt new approaches.”


He said they were already using technology such as global positioning systems (GPS) and motors to assist in retrieving nets.

The project has been scaled down to one island, from the initial three.


“We believe with the PSI project, the industry will flourish through better fishing amenities and supporting industries.


“We must do away with methods that are laborious and less productive. Only then will the younger generation be attracted to the job,” he added.


After the PSI project was announced in 2013, it went through a long process before securing environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval last April.


It was originally designed to fund part of the Penang Transport Master Plan, which includes the Pan Island Link and light rail transit (LRT) projects.


But with the Federal Government fully funding the LRT project from Bayan Lepas to Tanjung Bungah, the PSI project was scaled down by 49%, with Island B (566ha) and Island C (324ha) shelved indefinitely.


Only Island A (930ha) will be reclaimed in two phases.

Idris believes the fishing industry will flourish with better amenities through the PSI project.


Idris, who recently had his 18-year-old boat replaced with a new one under the project’s Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP), said not all fishermen were in favour of the project.


He, however, remains optimistic about its long-term benefits.


“It may take many years to mature, and I might probably not be here to witness it, but the future generations will.


“The project has promised to provide us with a better place to dock our boats and our fishing areas near Pulau Kendi will be unaffected,” he said.


Permatang Damar Laut Village Community Management Council (MPKK) chairman Yacob Md Noor, 81, said some of the 5,000 residents in the area were ill-informed about the reclamation project.

Yacob says most of the area’s 5,000 residents are ill-informed about the project.


“Many residents still have doubts about the project, and only a few in the fisheries sector are well-informed about it.


“Some of them object to the project because they are concerned about the need to venture twice the distance to catch fish and prawns once the new island is built.


“Many of them did not get the real picture as they were influenced by certain quarters not to attend the project briefings and discussions.


“Over the past four years, I have attended numerous meetings, and based on my understanding, the island will feature housing, industrial and commercial segments.


“This is great news as the development will enable us to move away from being solely fishermen,” he said.


“Once the developments are ready, there will be new job opportunities and significant local changes, including transportation to ease traffic congestion,” Yacob added.


Multiplier effect


Caterer Suzana Dhazak, 45, said the PSI project would offer a better future for her six children aged between seven and 20.


“Upon its completion, my children will benefit from having access to career opportunities without needing to leave this area.


“I am confident that once the reclamation begins, I will get more customers,” she added.

Suzana says with the project, her children will have better access to career opportunities.


Eatery owner Tamin Hassan, 52, said, “Modernisation will bring forth more job opportunities and we should always welcome such progress.


“Some who are accustomed to traditional life might feel threatened by the project, particularly those who are worried about losing their fishing grounds at sea.


“However, as long as there is proper planning for economic sustainability, I am confident that everyone’s livelihoods will improve if we adapt to changes.


“Commercial areas will be developed and I will relocate my business to a more suitable location.”


Economic catalyst, new tourism attraction


Island A, to be known as Silicon Island, is expected to take between 10 and 15 years to complete.


The first phase, constructing 526ha, will take seven to 10 years to be completed, while the second phase will add another 404ha to the island.


Silicon Island will also be home to a Green Tech Park (GTP) and “Heart of the Island” (Hoti), which will be the economic catalyst and new tourism attraction for Penang.


Caretaker Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had earlier said the GTP would feature research and design facilities, digital technology infrastructure, ecommerce and business process outsourcing.


He said Silicon Island would be strategically located since it would be near Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and Penang International Airport.


He also said Hoti would be a waterfront commercial hub, which would serve as the pulse of the island.


Several residential developments including affordable housing would be another feature of the island, he said.


There would also be a waterway network for transportation and that could be another new tourist attraction in the state, added Chow.


Silicon Island Development Sdn Bhd, which is 70% owned by SRS PD Sdn Bhd, has awarded the design, management and construction of the Phase 1 reclamation works of Island A to turnkey contractor SRS TC Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gamuda.


Phase 1 preparatory works commenced on July 1 while physical works will only begin once the company secures Environmental Management Plan approval from the Environment Department.


The project is targeted for completion in seven years.


Objections by civil societies


Despite the state government’s explanations and assurances, several civil society organisations have raised their objections to the project.


They said the reclamation would cause permanent and residual impacts on mudflat ecosystems, fishing grounds, turtle-landing areas and some coral reefs in Pulau Rimau.


They also claimed that the permanent destruction would have a significant negative impact on marine resources, fisheries and national food security.


The groups also said the state government had failed to justify the reclamation, adding that if land were needed for development, there was 12,000ha available on Penang mainland.


They noted that the EIA was flawed as it did not take into sufficient consideration that the project would result in the destruction of an important fishery, which provides income for over 3,000 people and their families, and food – fish, prawns, crabs and other marine life – for consumers.


These concerns have since been addressed by the Penang government and project delivery partner SRS Consortium.

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