Seletar jetties in jeopardy - again

Seletar fishermen may have to move to make way for major road project
Straits Times 23 Nov 12;

AFTER shelling out thousands of dollars to hire professional engineers to certify their jetties safe, fishermen and jetty owners at Seletar thought they could continue to earn a living from the sea.

But their future remains uncertain, as the jetties might have to make way for a road project.

According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) 2008 Masterplan, which maps out development plans for the next 10 to 15 years, a major road could be built parallel to Lower Seletar Reservoir Dam, in Yishun Avenue 1.

When contacted, URA could not confirm details of the proposed road, or whether the jetties, sited on a reserved site, would be affected.

The jetties, just off the eastern corner of the dam, may be boxed between two major roads and have access to the sea cut off.

The 30 to 40 full-time fishermen there - most of whom head to waters off Pulau Ubin or Changi - fear it is only a matter of time before the jetties have to make way.

Their new concerns follow a recent scare over the jetties' future because of safety violations and illegal land use.

In 1993, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) approved the use of part of the picturesque Seletar Reservoir coast as a mooring spot for boats.

Over the years, long wooden jetties and structures were built that extended from the mangrove far out into the sea.

Both the MPA and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) declared these structures illegal in March, saying that although three temporary occupation licences had been issued for the use of state land since 1993, no approval had been granted for jetties and structures outside the licence boundary.

They noted that the structures lacked professional certification and posed a safety hazard.

However, if engineers could certify that the jetties were safe, they would not need to be removed.

An MPA spokesman said three of the four jetties have been certified safe by professional engineers, but they have to be inspected annually.

One jetty - which was not certified - has been dismantled. Fishermen from that jetty are believed to be now using Jenal Jetty, one of the three jetties that have been approved.

Most of the current jetty owners have been operating there for at least eight years.

Mr Yiew Lian, 60, a fisherman who docks his boat at a jetty owned by 76-year-old Toh Teck Yee, said the latter had spent about $2,000 to engage a professional engineer and make the necessary rectifications.

Another fisherman from a neighbouring jetty said he and others had pooled money to help the owner defray the cost of getting the jetty certified. "I contributed $50. What to do? There are no fish nowadays and I can't even feed myself," said the fisherman, who declined to be named.

These sums may not seem like much to some but the fishermen say they are significant given their meagre takings.

In a good month, these independent fishermen can earn $1,000. But, more often than not, they scrape by, as their catches have dwindled while prices of fuel have soared over the years.

When The Straits Times visited the place on Saturday, Mr Yiew had just returned from fishing off Pulau Ubin. His haul of mud crabs had fetched $80, out of which $50 went to foot the fuel bill.

"The $30 I earn does not take into account the amount needed to repair the nets. Compared to 30 years ago, the catch now fetches better prices but there are fewer fish," he said.

Fishermen said the fluctuating salinity of the reservoir after it was dammed and nearby land reclamation works had affected the quality and quantity of the catch.

"In the past, there was more salt water and our fish were so good that they were exported. Now water gets stuck in the reservoir and doesn't circulate," said a jetty owner who wants to be known only as Mr Teo.

With such bleak prospects, it is not surprising that the number of fishermen here is on the decline. According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, which issues licences to commercial fishermen, there are 61 now. In 2009, there were 74. They sail out from locations such as Changi Creek, Pulau Ubin and Seletar.

Almost all the 30 to 40 fishermen in Seletar have been in this line all their lives. Some have retired, while those who continue are in their late 50s to 80s.

Some set up jetties as they live in the Seletar coastal area. It was once a fishing village for the Orang Seletar tribe, which made a living collecting shellfish and edible plants.

As most are illiterate and have lived from young by the sea, the fishermen hope the Government will find another site for the jetties if they need to be demolished.

"I think they will find another place for us; after all, we have shifted three times. Originally, we were at Punggol. What else can we do? We live here month by month," said Mr Teo.

Mr Oh Soon Chai, 54, who used to operate an illegal jetty in the area two years ago, said it is likely the jetties will have to go.

"The last time we were here, MPA told us we may have to move to somewhere near Yishun Avenue 6 and the Simpang area."

Should they be asked to go, some fishermen say they may take up menial jobs such as dishwashing or cleaning.

For now, they continue to fish and sell their catch to customers - mainly Yishun residents and nearby workers.

Crabs go for $18 a kilo, compared to $20 to $30 a kilo at supermarkets. Fish and prawns are also sold.

Said regular customer Lin, who paid $50 for 2.5kg of fish on Saturday: "It's cheaper and fresher than those in the market. I will order before I come, as there may not be enough for everyone if you just come.

"It's their livelihood and I hope they will still be around two to three years down the road."