ONE of the standout sunset images of Luak Bay in Miri is the silhouette of fisher folk pulling in their nets in rhythm with the lapping waves.
These piscators set up their fishing equipment earlier in the afternoon, and after waiting three to four hours, will drag the nets or reel the lines in and set for home — regardless of whether the haul is small or a bit more than usual.
Before heading to shore, they will pull out the poles used to hold their nets in the shallow waters. They fold the net slowly from one end without loosening the catch. Amazingly, this type of shallow sea net fishing has been going on in Luak Bay for more than 200 years. It’s called mukat, which uses a net called pukat.
Some use 400 feet of nets, some only 100. The pulling of nets seen from afar conjures up the imagery of a dance in the water amid the gathering twilight.
Most of the fisher folk come in pairs, either husband and wife, or just two friends, very rarely a mother and daughter, and quite often just one man alone who cuts a lonely silhouette in the setting sun.
They are mostly hobbyists, who not only have the time to enjoy fishing but also fish for dinner.
These fun fisher folk have personalised their gear, especially home-made stands for fishing rods.
In the evening, those who have fixed their fishing rods to stand in the shallows will take them in. They have been watching the goings-on from the beach while nursing a drink — either coffee or a cold beer.
One of them said he was quite lucky to have caught a few large and several small fish.
He had done some welding and was fully equipped with fishing-rod stands and equipment like cooler boxes, boxes for his baits, buckets and ice cubes (for drinks), and even a good chair.
He came alone but had met up with a group on the beach and they parked their vehicles together.
All brought along five or more rods, which they lined along the shore. Sometimes, their lines broke but they usually had the right preparation for a good day’s fishing. A bigger fish could easily snap the lines but that would be considered a good sign of bigger fish in the water.
Another one of them brought a 100-foot net, so he had to stand in the water for about three hours.
“These days with mobile phones, we can call each other and meet casually like this — no promises made. We have to be flexible because the weather is not predictable and we have other commitments too.
“But when we have the time, we love fishing and try to come as often as we can. If we have the Sarawak Almanac, we can estimate the tides and come at a suitable time. Fishing can be addictive.”
As dusk descended, all of them got ready to go home.
Nina (name has been changed) came ashore and the last figure out of the water was a smaller woman — her mother. They were the first pair of net fishing women I had ever met.
Nina and her mother are Kedayan who live nearby. She is an itinerant hawker, while her mother is a housewife. They fish to supplement their daily diet.
Apart from being expert fisher folk, they are also clam hunters. In their cloth bag, they had about 2kg worth of clams.
According to Nina, fishing is in the blood of the Kedayan women, but for them it can be also said to be a hobby. She makes her mother happy when she can accompany her net fishing.
“These clams for our soup tonight and tomorrow,” Nina said.
We didn’t have the heart to take any as gifts from her as the clams were extra food for them.We walked with them to the higher part of the beach and they showed us their baskets. They would later bring home their pukat — the poles Nina’s mother hid in the bush.
It was quite a heavy load for Nina to carry in her plastic basket — both their catch and nets.
“We cannot afford the traditional Kedayan fishing baskets because some of the well-made ones cost more than RM100. My mother used to make them but collecting the rattan from the jungle would take days. Besides, the jungle is too far away as we now live in town,” she said.
Does Nina’s mother miss living by the sea in a kampung house? She was such a quiet person I did not ask. My eyes followed her as she disappeared quietly into the darkness.
At the end of Luak Bay is the concrete fortress resembling the wall of a mansion. Three personnel from the Field Force Camp of Miri had set up camp there with a fire going. They were originally from Sabah, Sri Aman, and Perak, but had been in Miri for some time.
Augustine from Sabah said, “We’ve come to unwind. It’s nice to feel the wind. We can be here until about 10 at night. This place is safe. The sunset is lovely. Sometimes, we can catch fairly big fish, but this not important. We just love being here.”
He had a box fitted with oxygen so that his baits (prawns) could stay alive. Good fresh bait is preferred by the bigger fish. On a good day, the trio had caught stingrays and a few big fish weighing more than 2kg.
According to them, fishing is a good clean hobby and there are lots of opportunities to fish in Miri with its very long coastline.
Nawi Suhaili graduated from the Sarawak Teacher’s Training College when it was still in Sibu and has taught in many schools in Miri, Subis, and even in the ulu.
He retired as a maths teacher some seven years ago.
“Fishing is a very rewarding hobby, and my family and I enjoy the fish I catch here in the Luak Bay. As my house is not very far from this beach, the fish would be very fresh. Sometimes I get 6kg just from a few hours of mukat and I am happy to go home. Sometimes I have only about 3kg of fish. But there is always another day of happy fishing for me,” he said.
Retired professor Mohamed Abdul Majid remembered his school days and his friends who were members of the Tanjong Lobang School Fishing Club in the early 1960s.
The then principal Robert Nicholl bought nets, rods, and lines for the poor students to go fishing. He felt it was one way to help the ulu boys bond and feel less homesick.
And whatever the boys caught would supplement their school hostel meals.
Mohamed and his best friend, Lt Col (Rtd) Rizal Abdullah, often went fishing on their own. Their fishing escapades made his student life meaningful, he said.
According to retired geologist and Malaysian Nature Society Miri chairman Musa Musbah, fish should still be plentiful in Luak Bay if it remains unpolluted.
Horseshoe crabs used to be plentiful in July and August on Luak Bay beaches apart from a variety of clams.
“These horseshoe crabs have been in existence earlier than mankind and we should try to conserve them. Unfortunately, they are not protected by law.
“The evolution of these crustaceans goes back far before the dawn of human civilisation, before the arrival of the dinosaurs and even before our flowering plants — probably to the time of creation,” he explained.
The fishermen who met us at the Luak Esplanade said they would go crabbing from time to time and, hopefully, even come across some horseshoe crabs.
“We don’t eat horseshoe crabs but their shells are very pretty. Some people just go for the eggs, so the females are eaten, while the males are let go. Like this, the horseshoe crabs will become fewer and fewer, or even die out.”
Local businessman Tony Tan said he and his friends used to catch crabs at the mouth of the Sungai Buloh, now forming the southern border of Luak Esplanade.
“This area was our crabbing heaven during our young days and we caught a lot on the weekends. Now the crab population has declined and we’re no longer that young. It was an exciting hobby in those days.”
Hobby fishing is an enjoyable pastime, especially when the water is clean and warm. Luak Bay can be further improved with concerted efforts to clean it up although it’s fairly unpolluted by Malaysian standards.
“We must try to conserve this beautiful bay and let threadfin cod, mackerel, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs, rock oysters, clams, prawns, krill, stingray, pomfret, mirror fish, coral fish, and tuna continue to breed and populate in its waters.
“Foreign or even local fishing boats should not come and steal our fish,” Nina added.