Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
TANJUNG PIANDANG, Perak -- Kembung fish can be caught throughout the year especially during the bumper harvest seasons when the catch could rise to several hundred tonnes. The massive catch of fresh kembung has boosted the mostly family-run freezing businesses.
Since kembung fish has good demands in neighbouring Indonesia and Thailand, its exports have helped bring in substantial foreign exchange earnings for the country. Before the freezing industry has come into existence, the catch would normally be sent to local markets or sold to salted fish manufacturers at low prices.
Kembung fish plays an essential role in the quick-freezing industry as most of these operators rely on its harvests to survive.
With more than 20 years of experience in quick-freezing and seafood processing, Wu Feng Frozen Seafood's Ma Feng An told Sin Chew Daily that there used to be quite many fishing boats at Tanjung Piandang during the olden days when the catch was good. However, there are fewer fishing boats nowadays and the catch is smaller now. As a result, local operators have to source the raw fish from other places such as Kuala Muda in Kedah.
"Transportation cost is lower for local catch since the fresh fish could be processed or quick frozen the moment it has arrived at the jetty."
Ma said the normal 10kg packs of kembung fish could be sent to the markets after being frozen for four to eight hours.
High fuel costs
Ma added that local fish was rarely exported in the past due to high fuel costs. Kembung fish production has dropped in Indonesia and Thailand in recent years, resulting in increased demands for fish from Malaysia.
Quick-freezing operators have been in existence in Malaysia for quite some time and most of them are found in bigger fishing ports such as Sungai Besar in Selangor, where bigger fishing boats are available. By comparison, Tanjung Piandang, Nibong Tebal and Kuala Muda have shallower seabed and hence smaller catch.
Boosting local fishing industry
Another frozen seafood business operator Zhang Ying Xing said most of the operators are family-run businesses setting up operations close to the fishing port. Their presence has boosted the local fishing industry and has created job opportunities for local residents.
Apart from supplying to local markets, Ma's business has expanded to East Malaysia and oversea markets.
Ma said container shortage could complicate shipping of fish products to East Malaysia and the only way of securing speedy shipping services is going through Port Klang's containers but the cost is significantly higher and could be even costlier than freight charges to China.
Zhang said quick-freezing operators in the coastal areas of northern Malaysia rely heavily upon the kembung fish harvests. In view of the dwindling catch, the competition is intensifying as more players come into the market.
Besides, increased electricity tariffs have also added to the financial burden of local operators.
Zhang hopes the government would offer special incentives to help local quick-freezing operators.