Saturday, March 04, 2006

Protect & Preserve

KUALA ROMPIN in southern Pahang has seen some impressive development over the past five years or so. New shops, hotels, housing estates and government offices have sprung up to serve not only the local populace but the increasing number of tourists – not just the Singaporeans during the school holidays, but all-year-round anglers.

Angling has become big business in Kuala Rompin, primarily because of the sailfish. It is probably one of the top five sailfish destinations in the world. I know of no other place where one boat of three to four anglers can catch and release 15 to 20 sailfish a day.

Kuala Rompin is one place where anglers do not have to exaggerate their catch, and it needs to be preserved and nurtured. We always talk about “world-class” in Malaysia; now we have a truly world class angling destination. What are the powers that be going to do to preserve it?

That the economy of Kuala Rompin benefits from angling tourists can’t be denied, but has this benefit ever been quantified? I have heard many figures bandied about, ranging from RM1mil to RM10mil a year. My personal calculation, a conservative figure, comes to around RM3mil annually from sport fishing alone.

My calculations take into account boat hire, hotel, food, fuel, ice, drinks and the purchase of goods from sundry shops, pharmacies and fishing tackle shops. This figure is increasing annually as more boats ply the waters for the anglers.

The corollary here is that if the sailfish stocks are depleted, the local economy will suffer. If catch-and-release of sailfish (others such as dorado and tenggiri can be kept) is practised, then more angling boats will enter the markets, with little or no effect on stocks. The boats are virtually fully booked now for weekends through to September. The scope for Kuala Rompin is huge.

Sailfish in Kuala Rompin need to be protected to ensure fishing tourism has a long life here. The sailfish in this picture were released alive. Only the first fish for any angler is allowed to be brought on board for photographic purposes, only for a brief period, before being released and resuscitated if necessary. All subsequent fish may only be photographed in the water.

But Thailand leads the way in attracting high-spending foreign anglers. A large swathe of their sea has been designated for recreational fishing only and trawlers enter at their peril. Enforcement is strong and trawlers are confiscated and fined if they fished in the recreational zone.

On the freshwater scene, Thailand has successfully developed the new, world-famous Bung Sam Lake as an international destination.

Malaysia had the opportunity 15 to 20 years ago to do the same with Tasik Kenyir. Alas, despite the meetings, study papers, articles and letters, nothing really happened. Many an announcement was made but that was as far as it got. The illegal netting was never controlled and enforcement virtually non-existent.

In all the years that I visited Kenyir, not once did I see any enforcement on the river areas where the anglers go. Not once was I stopped and had my ice-box checked. Neither were any of my fishing buddies.

I have not been to Kenyir for over three years now primarily because fish stocks are at a critical level. There’s nothing to catch! The number of serious anglers now visiting Kenyir has dwindled to a trickle.

Will the same thing happen to Kuala Rompin ?

In the last two seasons I have escorted anglers from UK, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Korea, Japan, Australia and the US.

Already trawlers are targeting the sails as other fish stocks decline. Sailfish are classed as trash fish for these fishermen. They are off-loaded at Tanjong Gemuk and sold to fertiliser manufacturers, Toman breeders (as a protein source) and Keropok Lekor (fish crackers) makers for as little as 50 sen a kilo. A 30kg fish is therefore worth RM15.00 dead. Alive, caught and released to be caught another day, it is worth thousands. Where is the economic sense in this?

If fished commercially they will disappear, and then there will be no more fish and no more anglers pumping millions of ringgit a year into a small-town economy.

Next year, 2007, is Visit Malaysia Year. Anglers are also tourists and, I might add, big spenders. Let 2006 be the year that action is taken to preserve this angling paradise. Let 2006 be the year that enforcement is properly carried out.

I remember a letter to The Star sometime around Sept 2005 from a German policeman. He fished the sails here and saw trawlers netting the waters. He dived in Tioman and saw lots of big steel bubu (fish traps) within the marine park area. He lamented that these fishing and diving attractions would disappear in a couple of years without protection and proper enforcement.

I hope the new Tourism Minister, MP for Kuala Rompin, and the minister responsible for fisheries can get together very soon, before it’s too late.

Kuala Rompin also needs to enhance its facilities. A new jetty would be a welcome sight. At present, the old jetty, although serviceable, does tend to put tourists off. It’s dirty, crowded, full of nets, and, often access to angling boats is difficult.

Let us not lose another angling paradise and revenue generator.

~Source : The Star, Saturday, 4 March 2006 - by ANTHONY GEOFFREY

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