KUALA TERENGGANU: When it comes to buying seafood in Terengganu, there is always something fishy about the prices.
Despite being a maritime state with the vast South China Sea lapping at its long east coast, prices of fish and other marine life are widely considered “exorbitant.”
And more so this monsoon season, when fish prices are probably more expensive than premium petrol for motor vehicles.
Fuming city folk are expressing their ire over steep prices – and this has led to a blame game between them, fish mongers, suppliers and fishermen.
Richard Lee said that traders often blame fishermen who are unable to go out to sea owing to rough seas during the monsoon.
“It is we consumers who have to pick up the burden of being overcharged, when the sea is right in front of us.
“We can understand (that prices go up) during monsoon (season), but even off-monsoon, the prices of fish are high,” said Lee.
Prices increase by at least RM4 per kilogramme for fish of various types during the monsoon, and traders have no choice but to pass the buck to consumers.
Fish monger Othman Hashim, 47, said that it is common for prices to rise during the monsoon season and that consumers should not blame traders willy-nilly.
“We have little choice, as our business profit depends on the price (charged by) the supplier. If the supplier offers a hiked up price, we in turn have to raise the price to remain in business,” said Othman, who trades at Pasar Besar Payang.
He added that customers have the option to buy either the more expensive fresh fish, or frozen supplies which are lower in price.
“I suggest customers purchase frozen fish which are still relatively fresh and at affordable prices.
“We have no choice, as this is a perennial issue and owners of eateries and hotels (see) the price mechanism as based on supply and demand,” said Othman.
Over at the Chabang Tiga wet market, another fish monger, Hamidah Hussin, 57, said she has to put up with grumpy customers who still fail to understand the whole scenario.
“I have been trading for over 15 years, and while some (customers) come to terms (with) the hiked up prices, others put on a sour face.
“Anyhow, there is always a steady stream of customers, as fish is a much-favoured meal for locals,” she said.
Hamidah added that prices of fish are expected to dip in March once fishermen are able to take to the seas after the monsoon.
A survey found that fresh fish like selar is sold at RM12 per kilogramme, kerisi at RM14, selayang at RM12 and kembong at RM20 during the monsoon season, as compared with RM8, RM8, RM8 and RM14, respectively.
Retired civil servant John Archibald blames unscrupulous middlemen for the high fish prices year-round as they ‘export’ fishermen’s catch to big cities like Kuala Lumpur or even to Singapore for greater profit.
“Fish can be sold at higher prices in these larger cities owing to greater demand, and suppliers are keen to serve the big restaurants and hotels there.
“There must be some control on this, as local customers are being fleeced,” he said.
Archibald added that there is fish aplenty in the South China Sea, in such abundance in fact, that even foreign fishermen from as far away as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are often caught for illegal fishing in Malaysian waters.
And the local jetties and ports at Chendering and Pulau Kambing are always abuzz with activity with local fishermen who make a tidy sum with their daily catch.
“Imagine sotong (squid or cuttlefish) being sold for as high as RM28 per kilogramme, prawns for RM32, kerapu pisang for RM80 and lobsters for RM80.
“Why is this allowed to happen?” he asked.