Covid-19 Exclusives: Using the Net in Urban Fishing

loading Sea Breeze's signature specialties are fresh crabs and prawns.

UPON FINISHING HER diploma studies in programming and networking in 2010, Syahifah Hawa Zamzuri returned to her hometown of Penang. During one of her beach ambles, the 22-year-old realised the potential of doing business here. The Tanjung Tokong fishing community, she noticed, relied on middlemen to dispose of their catches. That was when inspiration struck. She would learn the whole supply process. She spent the next two years going out to sea, and learning the tricks of the fishing trade from catching fish and sewing nets to setting selling prices.

Syahifah began her seafood business Sea Breeze in 2012, selling her own daily catch. As expected, it was not smooth sailing. “No one believed that I was selling fish at first. I was young-faced and skinny at the time. I would bring my phone around to people and ask if they wanted to buy fish from me. People had more faith in the middlemen then.”

Sea Breeze's banner greets customers visiting their stall.

Today, Sea Breeze is a small but successful business. Customers eager to buy fresh seafood go to her shop nestled in the fishing village behind Tesco Seri Tanjung Pinang. To date, Sea Breeze employs nine workers including Syahifah herself, who is now 31 years old and fondly known as Vivi to her loyal customers and in the community.

On the Net

Sea Breeze promotes its catch online. While they have also dipped their toes into the waters of Instagram and YouTube, Facebook remains their main and biggest platform.

In 2018 Wafiuddin Hamdan, who knew Syahifah in their student days, left his job in Putrajaya to become Sea Breeze's marketing manager, creating and managing the business' Facebook page. He now also serves as Syahifah’s business partner. “At first, we aimed for 500 likes by the end of the year, but we hit a hundred in only a month! From then on, many more people started to recognise Sea Breeze and come to buy from us. Promoting one’s business online can really help build your brand,” says Syahifah.

Young and brimming with entrepreneurial spirit, Syahifah is the founder of Sea Breeze.

At the time of writing, their page has 5,200 likes and 5,600 followers. Their posts largely consist of close-up shots of their catch such as crabs, prawns and sometimes, even huge lobsters and mussels. They interact with potential customers and ensure that followers are updated on their latest endeavours and the company’s newest developments. Occasionally, they share interesting facts on sea creatures such as the stonefish, as well as videos about their lives as coastal fishermen. Their casual and informal posts are filled with emojis, making their site approachable. The site encourages people to engage with them.

“When we first started marketing on Facebook, we mainly tried to attract customers to visit our stall. During the MCO period, when no one could come out of their homes, we decided to offer a Cash on Delivery service and used our Facebook page to promote it,” says Syahifah. Many farmers and fishermen had to suddenly adapt and sell their goods online to make ends meet. Sea Breeze was already an established online platform, so it was able to adjust easily, delivering fresh seafood to customers’ doorsteps.

But this was not without its share of challenges. “People would order at around the same time each day, so sometimes items would arrive later than promised. Imagine eight different people from eight different areas in Penang ordering at 10 in the morning!” Syahifah laughs. She stresses the importance of maintaining good relations with customers. “I learned from my mistakes. We would bring extras to give to customers whenever we delivered their order later than expected.”

More Than Just Fresh Fish

“We turn the smaller fish we catch, the less flavoursome ones that don’t have much meat, into sun-dried and salted fish. That way they don’t go to waste.” What began as a test is now a Sea Breeze staple, which also includes dried squid and dried krill, depending on the season. “We’re venturing into frozen seafood next,” she says, pulling out vacuum-sealed bags of soon-to-be-frozen fresh prawns of various sizes.

Cooking is one of Syahifah’s many passions, and aside from catching and selling seafood, she is relying on her culinary skills to diversify her business even further. Throughout Sea Breeze’s years in operation, she has experimented in cooking and selling food such as keropok lekor (Malay fish sausage) and siu mai (Chinese steamed dumpling). This past Hari Raya, when Malaysia was still under the MCO, the business made and sold lemang (bamboo rice) and varieties of ketupat (rice dumpling), taking orders and delivering them.

Aside from fresh fish, Sea Breeze also offers dried and salted fish which are made in-house.

Syahifah's business partner Wafiuddin Hamdan.

During the MCO period, Sea Breeze adapted to the changing circumstances by offering a COD service, delivering fresh seafood straight to customers' doorsteps.

Sea Breeze also offers catering services. “My friend, who’s part of a dragon boat team, asked me to cater for their AGM; he was the one who made me branch out into catering.” Before this, Syahifah would put on parties and invite friends to come try her dishes, most of which would be made from sea-based ingredients, from fragrant and savoury laksa to roasted crabs and prawns.

Her activities also caught the attention of the management at Eastern & Oriental Hotel. “They wanted to support and develop the nearby fishing community, so they got us to cater at a few of their events.” Sea Breeze has since catered at events such as the hotel’s Chinese New Year open house in 2018.

While the main focus is still on catching and selling seafood, by multiplying her income streams, Syahifah has made Sea Breeze flourish as a brand, reeling in customers state-wide.

For the Future of Fishermen

Burning with entrepreneurial vigour and bursting with new ideas, Syahifah is now planning to start Kelab Rakan Sea Breeze (The Friends of Sea Breeze Club), which will begin by primarily targeting children and teenagers. Starting with her daughter’s friends, she hopes to organise activities which will instil in them, at a young age, a love for Penang’s beaches and the sea, encouraging them to care for the environment and its creatures.

Recent land reclamation projects have been adversely affecting water quality, in turn dwindling the catch of Penang’s coastal fishermen. “Even when you reclaim land as far away as Jelutong, all the way here in Tanjung Tokong, we feel the effects. The dust, sediment and murky water get washed here and affect marine life.” Through the club, she aims to attract the interest of parents to spread awareness that the environment is something worth loving and protecting.

“In the past, we would get visits from NGOs like Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth), and they would bring along students from USM. Since our stall has become a place for people to ask questions and gain information on subjects like the reclamation projects and sea creatures, I thought it would be a good idea to open an information centre.” When it officially opens, the Sea Breeze Information Centre will expose NGOs, university students and members of the public to various aspects relating to the lives of the fishing community.

“I want to inspire the young to become fishermen, and I want them to think of fishing as a profession that’s just as great as white-collar jobs. I want them to become fisherfolk who are traditional yet urban.” A self-proclaimed urban fisherwoman of the new generation, Syahifah nevertheless seeks to retain the traditional methods of fishery in spite of Sea Breeze’s use of IT and its diversification. An enterprising fisher and entrepreneur, she is grateful for her ability to think outside the box. With the rising need for digital skills caused by the pandemic and the MCO, she believes that innovation and adaptation are the way to go. “I think even when the MCO period ends, fishermen will continue to use multimedia as a sales platform, and they will all become digitally literate.”

Regularly braving sweltering sunbeams and rocky waves, her passion for the profession is evident. Syahifah is hopeful for the future of fishermen. “Maybe someday, we urban fisherfolk will go out to sea in suits and ties,” she jokes.

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Vacuum-sealed packs of prawns in various sizes.

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