DAP calls on Minister of Agriculture, Datuk Haji Abdul Manan bin Haji Othman, to use his powers to suspend the coming into force of the Fisherish (Maritime) Regulations 1980 to save fishermen from great hardships

by Parliament opposition leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, 4th June 1981:

DAP calls on Minister of Agriculture, Datuk Haji Abdul Manan bin Haji Othman, to use his powers to suspend the coming into force of the Fisherish (Maritime) Regulations 1980 to save fishermen from great hardships

When I visited Pulau Pangkor, bagan Panchut and Pantai Remis last weekend, together with Sdr. Lim Cho Hock (DAP National Vice Chairman and MP for Ipoh) Sdr. P.Patto (National Organising Secretaryand MP for Menglembu), Sdr.Liew Ah Kim (National Social/ Cultural Secretary and Selangor State Assemblyman for for Kajang) and Sdr. Ding Chek Ming, MP for Bruas, I have had the opportunity to learn at first hand how Malaysian fishermen were facing grave hardships arising the livelihood of trawler fishermen not only in the Dindings area, but throughout the country.

The new Fisheries (Maritime) (Amendment) Regulations 1980 implemented a few weeks ago have virtually created panic among trawler fishermen, forcing them to stay home despite great loss of earning for fear of the greater loss of infringement of the regulations leading to confiscation of their trawler vessels and everything they own.

In fact, what one fisherman in desperation describe the new Fisheries Regulations as a ‘death penalty’ on all trawler fishermen is not too much an exaggeration.

What is most shocking however is the undemocratic way the Regulations were drafted, gazette and implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture without seeking the views and opinions of the fishermen who have been so badly affected threatening their very livelihood.

What is also deplorable is that when MCA, Gerakan and Barisan leaders were approached by fishermen and their representative organisations about the adverse effects of the new Fishing Regulations on the trawler fishermen, these MCA, Gerakan and Barisan leaders tried to ‘pass the buck’ by claiming that the new laws were passed by the Parliament itself, and that however sympathetic they were to the fishermen’s problems and hardships, their hands were completely tied.

This is downright dishonest, because the new laws adversely affecting livelihood of the trawler fishermen were never passed by Parliament. It is not an Act of Parliament at all, but merely a Regulation, made by the Minister of Agriculture under the powers conferred on him under Section 21 of the Fisheries Act 1963.

This is why the name of this new fishery law is known as Fisheries (Maritime) (Amendment) Regulations 1980.

The Minister has the power to make regulations, and he has the power to repeal the same regulations with the stroke of the pen, without having to wait for Parliament to repeal it. The question basically is whether the MCA, Gerakan and Barisan party leaders are sympathetic to the legitimate grievances created by the new Regulations, and whether the Minister of Agriculture would undo the harm now being done to the trawler fishermen.

The new Fisheries Regulations 1980 introduces three provisions which have caused great hardships to the trawler fishermen:

1. The regulation prohibiting trawlers of 40 tons and below from fishing within five miles of the shore (as compared to three miles previously), and trawlers of over 40 tons from fishing within 12 miles (as compared to 7 miles previously);

2. The regulation prohibiting the use of nets whose mesh size is less than 1.5 inches;

3. A whole new range and increase of licence fees for trawler fishing, in some cases increasing by a few hundred per cent aggravating the hardships already experienced by the fishermen.

Five-mile ban on trawler fishing

The five-mile ban on trawler fishing has threatened the entire livelihood of the trawler fishermen in the country, who are mostly trawler fishermen of a smaller scale, at around 10 – 12 tons. I understand that trawlers of 25 tons and below consume 20 to 30 gallons of diesel a day, and with the rise of diesel price and other equipment some three-fold, the operating costs of a fishing boat of 25 tons and below are quite high at between $70 to $90 a day. Sometimes a day’s catch is not good enough to cover the operating costs even under the previous regulations prohibiting trawler fishing within 3 miles of shore.

With the new regulation extending the 3 miles limit to 5 miles, many of the trawler fishing vessels will not have the horse power to go to the high seas and fish, seriously affecting their yield and livelihood. The majority of the Malaysian trawler fishermen lack the sophisticated equipment and tonnage to fish in the 5 mile – 12 mile zone, or the finances to equip themselves with such facilities.

The great grievance of the trawler fishermen is the harassment in the hands of the marine police, who will arrest trawler vessels on the ground of having violated the five mile limit zone, when the vessels on the ground of having violated the five-miles limit zone, when the fishermen were clearly beyond the five-mile limit, and when there is simply no equipment or reliable way for the fishermen to guide them with regard to their distances from shore.

If the trawler fishermen go to far out into the high seas, they face the other danger of running into Indonesian naval vessels, who have no compunction about taking action against Malaysian vessels, affecting their property and sometimes even their lives.

Trawler fishermen are indeed a most unfortunate lot. They are harassed in home waters by the Malaysian marine on a whole host of unreasonable grounds, while if they try to escape the harassment of the home marine by going well out into the high seas, they run into the harrassment of the Indonesian navy.

What has the Agriculture Ministry done to save the Malaysian trawler fishermen from such dilemma between ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’?

The bigger mesh net size for fishing nets.

The bigger mesh size for fishing nets as required by the new regulations stipulating a minimum of 1.5 inches will seriously affect the catches and therefore the income of the fishermen. The bigger mesh size means that smaller prawns will get away. These small prawns make up half the total catch by weight in many cases.

The fishermen in Malaysia are Malaysians who deserve protection of their livelihood by the government, and not harassment and persecution. Furthermore, the Malaysian fishermen belong to the Malaysian poor, who lead hard lives, and in line with the NEP objective of helping to eliminate poverty of race, the Government should provide special assistance schemes to help the fishermen and not come out with more and more regulations which strangle the livelihood of the already poor fishermen.

If the Malaysian government could subsidise the padi farmers in Kedah, for instance, there is no reason why the Government could not provide a form of subsidy for the fishermen. The fishermen are not asking for price subsidy like the padi farmers, but the least the government should do is to provide diesel subsidy, especially as Malaysian now produces large quantities of its own diesel.

Trawler fishermen face grave hardships arising from the new regulations, and many fishing vessels have been grounded because of the increased activity of the marine police to enforce the new regulations. If fishermen are arrested, they face the confiscation of their entire vessel and fishing gear – which in effect means their entire means of livelihood! This is most punitive and unjust.

I call on the Minister of Agriculture, Datuk Haji Abdul Manan bin Haji Othman, to suspend the enforcement of the new Fisheries Regulations to save the trawler fishermen from their grave hardships.

The Ministry should conduct a full study into how the regulations have endangered the livelihood of the trawler fishermen in the country, and allow the representatives of the fishermen throughout the country the opportunity to put their representations to the Ministry.

Apart from the common problems faced by fishermen arising from the new regulations, I understand that different areas have also peculiar problems of their own. The DAP would try to collect as comprehensive a range of materials about the problems faces by Malaysian fishermen in different parts of the country, before we prepare a memorandum to the Minister of Agriculture. We hope that fishermen from another area would be able to contact DAP MPs and Assemblymen so that we could have the fullest picture of the problem of fishermen in the country.

When I was in Pantai Remis, I received a memorandum from representatives of fishermen, and such-like memorandum will undoubtedly be a great help not only in enabling DAP MPs to understand better the problems of the fishermen, but also for all Malaysians and the Government.