IN FOCUS: Changing weather patterns a bane for Malaysia’s fishery sector

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Climate change has thrown monsoon, wind and wave patterns into disarray, affecting the fishermen’s operating costs and potential of pulling in a good catch.

A crane operator carefully transferred barrels of seafood from a docked fishing boat’s deck to the Hai Seng Huat Fishery’s wharf, while customers walked gingerly on the wet floor of the fishery, making their picks. 

The catch was great, particularly for kembung (Indian mackerel), but for Mr Chia Tian Seng, 47, one of four brothers who founded the fishery, the weather has been a cause for concern for fishermen and middlemen over the past decade.

“Normally, the wind would be constant in one direction during monsoon season, but now, the wind and the currents are unpredictable,” Mr Chia Tian Seng, who used to run his own vessel for 10 years, said.

“The winds are uncertain, such that normal spots where you’d expect to have fish don’t have the same amount of catch or are even empty,” he added. 

Fish that would not normally be in season are caught instead. This is another change Mr Chia Tian Seng noticed. “Previously, you’d almost never get squid during Chinese New Year season here. It’s more in season towards mid-year.

“But this year, we’ve been catching a few tonnes here and there since the beginning of the year,” he said. 

His elder brother Mr Chia Tian Hee, 51 who is the current president for the Sekinchan Fishermen and Fish Traders Welfare Association and the national Fish Industry General Association, said fishermen struggled to find kembung a few years ago. 

“But last year and this year, fishermen have been pulling in kembung like you wouldn’t believe it, until even we are asking what’s going on,” he said. 

For local fishermen out on the sea, the effects of climate change become more apparent as man-made carbon emissions continue to increase. 

They have noticed that they need to venture farther and thus spend more on fuel to look for fish. Uncertain weather patterns and the difficulties and danger that come with it are also a challenge. 

Eventually, this may affect Malaysians who are among the highest consumers of fish per capita, eating an average of 168g of fish per day according to research published in 2016. 

Meanwhile, experts worry about the impact of climate change on the marine food chain and local ecosystems, as warmer and more acidic seas threaten the health of marine life. 

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