A fisherman sorting out his net.
Along Penang’s north-west coastline, semi-wooden houses lie in the shade of skyscrapers. Even before the sun rises and warms the sea, their occupants are already at work, pushing their boats out to sea and braving the waves.
This has been Faizal Muhd Yusoff’s daily grind since he was 23. After finishing high school, he worked at Hewlett Packard for two years before deciding to go into fishing full-time. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, so working a nine-to-five job wasn’t my cup of tea. And I like to fish. My father was a fish wholesaler in this area; it was from there that I learned that fishing can be a career, so I chose this path.”
The 40-year-old father ventures out to sea at dawn with a friend who works for him on his motorised boat. As a fisherman, Faizal knows well the vagaries of tide and wind, and the dangers of the monsoon. For this reason, he will not go fishing during the high tide, and on windy or stormy days. “If it rains in the morning, we will only go out in the evening when the waves and wind are calmer. It is very dangerous to go out on a windy day – there is no warning of what can happen out in the open sea.”
Faizal Muhd Yusoff.
Once done with the fishing, he hauls his boat to shore, where the catch – crabs, shrimp, squid and fish, ranging from groupers, snappers, Indian mackerel, threadfin and so on – are removed from the three-layer fishing net and sorted according to type. After sorting, the catch is weighed and priced. On days when Faizal returns later than usual, his wife would help with this.
Unlike other fishermen, Faizal runs a stall where he sells his catch. This is along Jalan Tanjung Bungah. “Although having a middle man is easier, it causes some loss in profit. I also prefer to deal with the customers directly and get to know their demands and likings. When customers are happy with their purchase, they will come back and spread the word to their friends and family, which in return gives me business.”
Typically, fishermen are free to relax, watch TV, spend time with their families and catch up on gossip in the evenings while mending their nets and preparing for the next day. But not Faizal. He sets up his stall between three and five in the afternoon; business is brisk and he has often sold out within two hours. On days when he has leftovers, he sells them to the nearby seafood restaurants.
The fishermen who live shoulder to shoulder with him mostly use traditional flat-bottom boats fitted with outboard engines. It is not a lifestyle that has made them wealthy, but it is what they have done for generations. “There are fishermen who sell their catch to me, which I purchase at reasonable prices. I can’t depend only on my catch alone – it is not enough. We go out to different areas in the sea and we catch different types of fish; with them selling to me, I can offer more choices to my customers.”
If it rains in the morning, we will only go out in the evening when the waves and wind are calmer. It is very dangerous to go out on a windy day – there is no warning of what can happen out in the open sea.
During the monsoon season, Faizal has to limit his days out at sea and he then spends his time mending the fishing nets and fixing his boats, of which he has three, which he bought with his savings. He purchased his first boat almost 20 years ago for RM17,000; his second boat cost him approximately RM60,000; while the latest was bought for about RM115,000. “Those fishermen with larger boats venture to the deep sea. With their larger vessels, they can better brave the monsoon, so during this season I will buy fish from them to sell – I won’t take the risk of going out when the monsoon hits.”
Apart from the monsoon, Faizal is also worried about climate change, pollution and reclamation projects. He has had to go farther out to sea to fish, and has observed a decrease in the amount of shrimp caught. “It upsets me to see rubbish floating around and getting washed up on the beaches. Sometimes I ‘catch’ some in my nets too.”
Despite the challenges, Faizal loves his job and the business he runs: “I find it very peaceful out there, away from the bustling city. Having a good catch makes my day too – there are days when I am blessed with plenty; on others, I may return empty-handed.
“I send my children to school and I want them to pursue other career paths. I don’t want them to struggle. I want a better life for them.”
Faizal’s humble stall can be found along Jalan Tanjung Bungah, near the junction with Jalan Wee Hein Tze.
Noorhasyilah Rosli is a publication graduate who is fascinated by books. She is an island girl who loves her beaches and hills.