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Where have all the fish gone?

by =James Ling. Posted on January 7, 2011, Friday

Fishmongers place customers on waiting list as supply dwindlesKAPIT: River fish like empurau, tengadak, patin and semah, which could once be easily found in markets here, are now so scarce that fishmongers have resorted to placing customers on long waiting lists.

A customer from Sibu ordered five patin in November, but has yet to receive the fish because of the acute shortage.

“The supply of fish has drastically fallen short of demand since three months ago, after the occurrence of the logjam,” said Ah Hua, a fishmonger who sells river fish.

Another setback, he said, occurred during the dry spell, which coincided with the Bakun Dam impoundment in October.

“The drastic fall of water level along the Rajang River gave rise to pockets of water, so fishermen at that time had a windfall harvest. Because of that, ample time is needed for the depleted fish stock to be replenished.”

He predicted that Sungai Melatai and Baleh River, where river fish once thrived, may need two to three years to regain their fish population.

Ah Hua said customers, particularly those from outside Kapit, have been calling daily to order fish, especially for Chinese New Year next month.

“There is one Datuk from Sibu who has placed an order for five ikan empurau and 20 ikan tengadak. At this moment I cannot deliver the order because there is no stock.”

His customers include restaurant owners from Kapit and Sibu as well as some from Kuching and Miri.

“On several occasions, visitors from Kuala Lumpur also bought fish from me. Corporate figures and politicians, during festive seasons, form the bulk of customers because these fishes make the best gifts.”

Ah Hua said another reason for the poor supply of fish could be a drop in the number of fishermen.

“Why should they spend the whole day trying their luck placing the hook and net in the river when there is an uncertainty in getting any fish?

“It’s better to return to the farm to tap rubber, which is now the golden crop at RM10 per kg. Tapping rubber is guaranteed income and also very relaxing because it’s a half day’s work,” he explained.

Currently, the market price for white empurau weighing 4kg and above is RM570 per kg; red empurau — RM120 per kg; tengadak weighing 1kg and above — RM300 per kg; RM130 per kg for semah weighing above 900 grammes; and RM38 per kg for patin.

In Kuala Lumpur, a dish of empurau is said to cost RM3,000.

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