Deep-sea  fishing off the hook during pandemic


Tang shows his impressive catch.

WITH 1,234 km of coastline along the South China Sea, Sarawak should be offering anglers some of the best spots for deep-sea fishing.

The littoral cities and towns of Kuching, Miri, Bintulu, and Mukah should entice anglers worldwide to come over and enjoy this marine activity.

But the picture hasn’t been cheery at all this year – and will possibly be the same next year.

During the pandemic, many deep-sea fishermen, especially the hobbyists, have chosen to stay onshore. Now that it’s the Landas, even fewer boats are rented out.

Angler Tingang Trang said he wasn’t taking any chances and decided to stay home.

The retired teacher trainer, who is also an avid orchid collector, added that he had enjoyed deep-sea fishing for many years and landed some good catches but with Covid-19 and Kuching turning ‘red’ in recent months, felt safer staying home, looking after his grandchildren and enjoying his retirement.

Tingang’s career in the education sector spanned more than 30 years. Besides being good in sports, especially tennis, he also went deep-sea fishing whenever he could and usually fished at Luconia, 150 nautical miles off Bintulu and Miri.

“I’m glad I took up this hobby. I now can use heavy-duty rods and electric reels,” he said.

In the mid-80s, Tingang caught barramundi or siakap (Asian sea bass) and freshwater game fish like perch mainly at estuaries.

Tang shows his impressive catch.

In his younger days, he even ventured into lakes and wetlands to catch snakeheads (Channa).

“Deep-sea fishing gave me a good break. I’d say it helped me with my lifelong learning besides the opportunity to exercise and move about in the boat. People often think fishermen just sit and wait for hours at one spot. That’s not true. We move about a lot,” he said.


A whopping catch

One of his most exciting catches was a 40kg grouper in Luconia in 2018. Groupers are very strong fish and big and resistant hooks are needed to withstand the strength of their jaws.

He also had some great times fishing off Bintulu this year.


Popular men’s sport

At Kampung Wireless jetty, another angler known as James told thesundaypost fishing had always been a popular men’s sport in Miri, noting that overseas anglers were now coming for deep-sea fishing tournaments in the resort city.

“I’m getting older now. Over the past two years, I had gone fishing for a few hours just as far as the boat could take me and landed a few big ones on a good day. These fish were for my family.”

According to him, fishing is a game, you win sometimes and get a lot but you also lose sometimes and come home empty-handed.

The boat rental is high in Miri but James reckoned it’s the same all over the world.

“Most fishermen don’t own boats. It’s too expensive. I hope in future Miri will have more fishing clubs to help organise outings for anglers.”

He noted that previous deep-sea fishing competitions in Miri had attracted international anglers from China and Hong Kong and some enthusiasts from Peninsular Malaysia and Brunei as well.

Miri is a well-known fishing destination. In the past, boat owners had regular customers throughout the year. Some boats were booked in advance. Most boat owners assure they have captains who know where the best fishing spots are.

Tingang (left) and friend Ling Kuok Huong are both fishing enthusiasts.

James now goes fishing whenever he can with friends to share the cost of renting a boat and he considers March to October as the best times to fish in Miri.

He stressed during the Landas, not even the biggest boats dared put out to the sea.

Although his fishing trips were usually for a few hours, some lasted two days and one night – at a special charge as he was quick to point out. Meals and cabin rooms were available on board.


Eco Park in Sibu Laut

Recently, a group of senior citizens visited Eco Park in Sibu Laut, Kuching. Restaurateur Roger Tang was at hand to do some cooking.

The group enjoyed ikan kembung, prawns, and other fish and were looking forward to more outings and more sea fish barbecues.

Dennis Tan, a long-time friend of Tang’s, said the latter served tasty ikan tenggiri batang, deep-fried Foochow-style, with a Foochow small crab sauce.

James caught these fish for his family.

“That’s the best in the world! Our eyes become brighter and sharper,” Tan enthused.

According to him, the best tenggiri batang are thinly shaped and the size of a woman’s foot.

Most people look forward to buying this particular fish at Sibu Laut and, for that matter, most fish markets all over Sarawak because it’s the sweetest fish you can eat, especially fresh off the boat.

Tang, from Sibu, owns a restaurant in Kuching and is keen on deep-sea fishing. He informs customers of the day’s special catch on offer and organises dinners after a fishing trip.

His catches include tenggiri batang, tuna, sea perch, barracudas, and senangin. Parrotfish and snapper are also common in the seas off Kuching with the occasional stingray. In shallower seas, grouper and trevally are among his prized haul.


High costs

Patrick Tang from Sarikei is a teacher who loves deep-sea fishing. Once he caught a tiger stingray weighing over 20kg. This kind of prized catch keeps hobby fishermen on the hook.

Nowadays, Patrick doesn’t go deep-fishing as regularly as before since he can fish at the river mouth or do some in-land prawn fishing.

He lamented that renting a fishing boat was very expensive – RM3,000 for a two-night, three-day trip.

A deep-sea outing from Mukah would cost around RM5,000 for three nights and four days. Simple seagoing outboards charge around RM200 per person for a day trip.

Cost is the main factor preventing hobby fishermen from going to the sea too often. At one time, Miri had many boats taking tourists and hobby fishermen on angling trips. But today, the charter business has slowed down.

Retiree Ali (name has been changed) felt deep-sea fishing was now very much a rich man’s sport.

A weather beaten fisherman from Miri.

“I just fish by the seashore whenever I can bring my grandchildren out for half a day.  Times are really bad now because we don’t know who is Covid-19 positive. We even wear masks when we go to the beach.

“A deep-sea fishing trip from Miri costs at least RM600 per person. So not many want to spend that kind of money now, especially pensioners. We may come home empty-handed. That’s a loss.

“Perhaps, charter boat owners can organise events for corporations like annual fishing trips for their best workers, annual outings, and activities for fishermen’s clubs, among others,” he said.

He pointed out that it would be very difficult to hold international fishing competitions during the pandemic, noting that border closures had prevented many good Brunei fishermen from coming here.

“Maybe the government can help organise a few events or even encourage research on how to increase the population of our pomfret, tenggiri, jewfish, and threadfin cod,” he suggested.