Tan Wei Kang.
Have you ever wondered where the siakap or ang sai that you just ate for lunch or dinner came from? Most of us would think it was caught from the wild, but there’s a high chance it originated from one of the many fish farms that dot our coast.
For example, at Tanjung Piandang, 10km southwest of Parit Buntar, lies Yee Feng Fish Farm. It was founded eight years ago by the industrious Tan Wei Kang, 29. His father was a fisherman, as was his grandfather – so the sea is in his blood. But seeing fish farming as a more sustainable source of income, Tan shored his boats for the bobbing tanks of wood and buoys.
He now raises a variety of fish and shellfish, such as golden pomfret, white pomfret, barramundi, red snapper, shrimp and shallow water crabs. In the past, he used to import all his fish fry from China or Thailand, but advancements in Malaysia’s fishery research has made it possible for him to cultivate his own; currently, the only imported fish fry is the golden pomfret, and this comes from China.
Gutting and cleaning the fish takes place on the docks.
His produce is sold to domestic markets – primarily in Penang and Johor – and to clients in Indonesia and Singapore. It usually takes one to three years, depending on species, for the fish to grow to maturity. Tan harvests mature fish to send to a nearby dockyard, where they are processed; he explains that in the case of Singapore, strict health regulations (and high labour wages) dictate that the fish are thoroughly cleaned and gutted before import is allowed. The fish are then separated based on species and final point of destination, before they are stored in a freezer, awaiting their turn to be transported.
A Farm’s Risks
“Fish farming requires a great amount of patience; the risk of financial losses is very high during the rainy season,” says Tan. “There was a fish farm in Tambun that was wiped out entirely in a single night of rainstorm which stirred up gigantic waves,” he recounts. “That’s why I always keep an eye out for the weather, and make sure the farm is regularly maintained.”
Bad weather is not the only threat; outbreak of marine viruses among the fish stocks can also annihilate the entire fish population. Tan is also increasingly worried about rapid industrialisation and carbon emissions from vehicles and factories which cause environmental pollution and climate change – two things that negatively impact not just his fish farm, but the global fishery industry as a whole. “These days, the profit margin of my business is shrinking because of the growing unpredictability of the environment. It affects my fish stock in varying degrees,” he says. “In recent months, my business has been running at a loss, albeit a bearable one.”
On top of that, the cost of constructing a fish farm is hefty. “The wood used has to be of the highest quality so that it can withstand constant water erosion for long periods of time. Four plots of fish ponds can cost up to RM300,000 just for the timber,” Tan says.
Upon completion, the construct will be further secured with fish nets on all sides to prevent the fish from escaping. These nets have to be washed and regularly replaced to get rid of fungus and barnacles, which cause damage to the nets and might prevent sufficient oxygen from reaching the fish.
It’s a harsh reality for the fisherfolk. In his area, most of them are predominantly Chinese, and they turn to the mythical Sea Dragon God for protection, and have built a shrine out at sea dedicated to the deity.
Floating shrine to the Sea Dragon God, which the fisherfolk built.
At one point, Tan recalls, the shrine was abandoned when thieves stole the statue of the deity. “Then dolphins started appearing close to the shore where we lived, which is a bad omen; and several fishing boats capsized. That event, and consultation with a temple medium, led to the rebuilding of the shrine, which was aided by a telco company coincidentally laying out underwater cables nearby at the time. Things started looking up after that.”
And with Tanjung Piandang being close to paddy fields, rustic kampungs and Nibong Tebal – which is famous for its mangroves and fireflies – Tan is keen to start a homestay for tourists who want the full ecotourism experience. “This is all still in the planning process as there are certain difficulties in procuring land for the construction of homestays here,” he says, but remains optimistic.
“I hope that one day, the fish farm can be further expanded. It will be my legacy to my children, and the generations to come,” Tan says. “It is a continuation of my family tradition. I’d like to see the business grow to greater heights.”
Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of South-east Asia. His passion has brought him to different South-east Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.