Local fishermens’ livelihoods threatened as developments like Forest City ‘shrink’ the sea

Today Online 9 Oct 18;

TANJUNG KUPANG (Johor) — Like his father and his grandfather, Mr Shalan Ju'at is a fisherman. But he will not allow his children to follow in his footsteps.

"Why? Because the sea has shrunk," he said.

The 25-year old Mr Shalan is among many in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, whose livelihoods — and seafaring legacy — are threatened by development, such as the expansion of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) and more recently, the mammoth Forest City project, just across the border with Singapore, which began construction in 2016.

Much of the 1,380ha Forest City as well as the PTP expansion are built on land reclaimed from the sea, where the fishermen cast their nets.

Beneath the elevated Tanjung Pelepas Highway leading to Forest City's main entrance, small clusters of ramshackle kampung houses, some of which are abandoned, form a striking contrast to the US$100 billion (S$138 billion) Forest City.

"We have been relocated three times," Mr Shalan told The Malaysian Insight at the tiny Kampung Pendas jetty.

"If they try to move us again, I think the fishermen will revolt."

Mr Shalan said that prior to 2012, before the PTP expansion encroached onto the sea banks, a fisherman was able to take home a catch of at least 50kg of flower crabs. Today, the haul has been reduced to as low as 2kg. Sometimes they even go home empty-handed.

"The fishermen are forced to venture further out, sometimes putting their lives at risk due to unpredictable sea conditions, or when they trespass into Indonesian or Singaporean waters.

"It is dangerous, and I myself dare not do it. But many have no choice because they are no longer able to rely on the catch in these waters."

He said many fishermen here, burdened with higher cost of living, take up multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some double up as taxi drivers, others take tourists seafishing.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, Forest City spokesman Ng Zhu Hann said the project developer Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) had paid large amounts in cash and in kind to compensate those living in the villages neighbouring the development.

"We have engaged with the fishermen's association very closely… If there's anything our project does that affects their livelihood, we make sure their livelihoods are taken care of with the necessary compensation," he said.

Mr Ng, who is the strategy director, said besides the fishermen, other locals have also benefited from the company's contribution.

"We work very closely with the heads of the village. We do corporate social responsibility projects, donate to the local religious facilities such as the surau and mosque.

"In terms of education… (the village) schools are heavily supported by us, not only in their operations, but also in the education of the students – the language classes, the extra classes. Apart from that, we help build facilities such as the wakaf," he said.

Documents sighted by The Malaysian Insight showed CGPV had paid out at least RM4 million in cash to the South Johor Fishermen's Association. A local conservation non-government organisation, Kelab Alami, which MR Shalan heads, received about RM200,000 (S$66,568).

Mr Shalan said Kelab Alami used the money to fund conservation programmes, as well as some programmes that help fishermen increase their catch.

On how the money for the fishermen's association was distributed, Mr Shalan said not everyone got a share.

"The association said that only the 'real' fishermen who are licensed will be given a portion of the money, and that they will conduct interviews to determine who qualifies," he said.

"But there are some fishermen who really needed help, and their whole livelihood depended on their catch at sea, but they didn't get any money. Then there are those who don't even go out to sea, but received money."

Mr Shalan and his wife eke out a living on her salary as a teacher and his as a middleman selling the fisherrmen's catch from his wooden home in Kampung Pendas.

Mr Johari Lasim, who is known as Pak Atan, has been fishing off the coast of Tanjung Kupang for 54 years, since he was just 13. Like many others in the area, he comes from a long line of fishermen.

At 67, with his children grown up and none of them fishermen, Pak Atan has laid down his nets and only fishes for recreation.

Although he feels sad that the coastal area which once provided sustenance to generations of his family is now gone, he is less critical of the on-going developments.

"We just have to accept it. Hopefully the fishermen here will be fairly compensated and not neglected," he said.

But for the younger folk like Mr Shalan, the future seems bleak and hopeless. He is reluctant to move away from his ancestral home to seek a better living, but hints that there might be no other way.

"There is no certainty that this place will even exist in the near future. Even if we wanted to fight this, we are mere fishermen, we don't have the means."

"Like I said, the sea has shrunk, and we have to think long-term." THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT