Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
TANJUNG PIANDANG, Perak -- Kembung fish is not only served as a dish to every household but has been a major contributor to the economy of fishing villages.
The large production of kembung fish has also given rise to a variety of related industries such as salted fish manufacturing industry, quick-freezing industry, food & beverage industry, transportation and ice industry, among others.
More than 500 fishing boats are found along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia in pursuit of kembung harvests. The annual production has topped one million tonnes.
Kembung fish are teeming in the Straits of Melaka due to the shallow seabed that encourages the growth of algae between monsoon seasons, providing ample food supply to kembung.
Depending on luck
The kembung harvests depend not only on experience and fishing equipment but also a bit of luck. In the absence of advanced detection device during the olden days, fishermen were entirely dependent on the flow of sea tide to cast their nets. With more fishing boats now competing for dwindling harvests, fishermen now have to venture at least ten nautical miles to look for fish, and the return journey could take five or six hours.
A trip to the outer sea would consume at least a few hundred ringgit on the fuel with unpredictable catch.
With 30 years of experience in fishing, Ma Fook Cheng told Sin Chew Daily that fishermen have to wait for the fish before dawn for the best timing of catching the fish between 7.00am and 8.00am. Communicating via walkie-talkies, fishermen would be notified of the exact location with the most abundant catch. It only takes around ten minutes to throw four packs of nets, but if the catch is good, it would take around three hours to retract the nets.
Most kembung fishermen live in fishing villages in Pulau Langkawi, Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Kuala Muda, Nibong Tebal, Tanjung Piandang, Pantai Remis and Pulau Pangkor.
Thanks to the kind arrangement made by Ma, Sin Chew Daily has been able to catch a glimpse of the kembung fishing procedures.
Setting off before dawn
We arrived at the jetty around five in the morning. Ma and his assistant Xu Mu Hai arrived ten minutes later and we set off together with the breakfast and drinking water they had prepared earlier.
Having received the tip that kembung fish would appear at about six nautical miles off the coast, we headed straight there.
The fishermen spent most of their time searching for the fish hiding at the seabed. About an hour later, many boats were seen gathering around there.
More and more fising boats arrived and Ma decided to follow the crowd throwing his net and an intense competition ensued.
Usually a boat owner would inform his family to get ready whenever there is a good catch. The entire village would then be busy ferrying the frozen harvests on motorbikes.
Kembung fishing is divided into shallow sea or deep sea fishing. Shallow sea fishermen would normally set off in the morning and return the same evening while deep sea fishermen would only return to the shore every one to two weeks.
Kembung is not a seasonal fish species and can be caught year round. As the southwest monsoon takes place in the middle of the year, most of the catches are obtained at the beginning and end of the year.