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Gerik fishermen flounder as logging activities spoil water

They used to bring in hundreds of kilos of fish per week but now struggle to land 20kg.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
A fisherman brings his boat to shore at Tasik Bersia in Hulu Perak.
A fisherman brings his boat to shore at Tasik Bersia in Hulu Perak.

In a small corner of the interior in Gerik, Perak, a narrow, winding tarmac road ends at a water treatment plant. 

To the right of the road, a concrete cliff ends at the water where a group of fishermen anchor their boats. 

Tasik Bersia is the source of livelihood for about 30 fishermen in the area, whose modest catch each day allows them to make ends meet. 

Unlike most fishermen who head out in the morning, they only start up their engines once the sun is on its way down. 

The journey to the middle of the lake can take anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes. Sometimes, the fishermen remain in the jetty area, depending on the season. 

Attached to their boats are powerful lights which they turn on to attract fish, similar to the method used for squid fishing in Terengganu. 

Fishermen head out to the middle of the lake at Tasik Bersia in Hulu Perak. 

For Wan Ikmal Izhar, 26, this is a full-time job. 

"We can catch a lot of fish if there is no moon," he said. 

"Once the fish begin to gather, we scoop them up from below." 

Normally, the fishermen spend all night on the lake, returning to the shore at dawn. 

Once upon a time, they could catch up to 600kg of fish per week. Now, though, it is difficult for them to get even 20kg. 

The biggest problem for the fishermen is the quality of the water, which has been affected by logging activities in the area. 

Their catch is also affected by factors such as the temperature of the water.

If their haul of minnows decreases, they will turn to other fish as an alternative. 

Wan Ikmal Izhar connects the wires for the light which he uses to attract fish to his boat. 

Ikmal became a fisherman in the footsteps of his father, Wan Mohd Yusof Wan Nik. Yusof himself no longer goes out to fish due to health problems. 

Instead, he buys the fish caught by his friends, freezing them and selling them to others. 

"Fish like this are in high demand from the Bangladeshis, who like to cook them in curry," he said. 

Once, these fish were sold for RM4 to RM5 per kg. Now, they can fetch up to RM13.

"But the Bangladeshis who come here are surprised because they say it's so cheap. It seems that in Kuala Lumpur, the fish can go for as much as RM30 per kg," Yusof added. 

Wan Ikmal Izhar holds up a handful of minnows caught after a night at Tasik Bersia.

Although he is no longer a fisherman, Yusof is aware of the difficulties his friends face making a living on the water. 

For one, he said, a good jetty would help them land their catch. 

"Right now, we don't have a proper jetty and this makes it difficult for them to bring the fish in," he said. 

He also hopes that the authorities will issue fishing licences for those in the small community.