Most major fish species that form the bulk of coastal fishermen’s catch in Terengganu will be depleted in 16 years if nothing is done to stop marine resources destruction by bottom trawler nets.
The good news is that this grim projection can still be prevented if the right steps are taken to ease the pressure on our marine fish stock.
It is this urgent need to protect marine resources from being destroyed by bottom trawler nets that drove Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) lecturer Dr. Mohd Fazrul Hisam Abd Aziz to research and design artificial reefs that double as anti-trawler devices (ATD) in collaboration with researchers from Prince of Songkla University, Thailand.
The Fisheries and Food Science faculty lecturer said the pressure on fish stock can be clearly seen from monitoring the size of fish sold in the local market.
“A decade ago a kilogram of yellow-tail scad or selar (Atule mate) consisted of an average of six fish. Now, the size has dwindled so much that a kilogram generally has more than 10 fish.
"The dwindling size shows that the fish has yet to be fully grown, let alone reproduce before they are caught. This trend combined with fish habitat destruction by bottom trawler nets will result in the depletion of fish stock in our seas in the next decade,” he said.
Showing a picture of a tiger prawn as big as his arm, he said although prawns of such a big size can still be found in Terengganu waters now, they will soon be gone if nothing was done to stop the declining stocks.
Large tiger prawns like this will become a rarity if nothing is done to stop the decline of our marine resources.Dr. Mohd Fazrul Hisam Abd Aziz.
“Large-sized fish and prawns that can rarely be found in the marketplace now were common a few decades ago. If this trend continues, they can be totally gone in the next few years,” he said.
Fazrul pointed out that apart from habitat destruction, the bottom trawler nets also killed the eggs and hatchlings of marine species.“The sea of Terengganu used to be abundant in squids especially during the squid-jigging season but in recent years the stocks have dwindled so much that even seasoned fishermen struggle to have a decent catch during the height of the season.
"One of the reasons is that bottom trawler nets have been scooping up the squids’ nesting grounds (locally known as kandang) together with the adult squids guarding them against predators. As each nesting ground contains thousands of eggs, their destruction makes it impossible for the squids stock to be naturally replenished,” he said.
Fazrul has successfully deployed a number of artificial reefs that double as ATDs in the coastal waters of Terengganu.
“The ATDs will snag and tear up the bottom trawler nets. Each trawler net costs thousands of ringgit and when combined with the loss of their catch from the torn net, the total potential losses will deter trawlers from venturing into our coastal waters,” he said.
He said the full impact of the ATDs will only be seen after two years as it takes time for marine life to colonise them.
“Artificial reefs have long been proven to increase fish stocks and so will the ATDs by providing shelter from bottom trawler nets and also a safe place for them to reproduce,” he said, adding that he received help from local fishermen in the construction and deployment of the ATDs.
“Their help is a big factor in keeping the cost of the ATDs down. This is a testament of the close relationship we have with the fishermen community here,” he said.
"They are happy to help with this project because they understand that we are helping them protect our marine resources which they depend on for a living,” he said.
He said the research will be published soon and hoped that more ATDs can be built and deployed once the design was patented.
“As a passive deterrent, the ATD is much more effective and costs much less than active patrolling of our seas by enforcement agencies,” he said.