TEMERLOH: THE country’s ikan patin capital here is facing an uncertain future following the dwindling population of the fish due to a drop in water level in Sungai Pahang and unpredictable weather.
Caged fish breeders have been experiencing a drop in production since the state was hit by floods in 2014.
The industry has never fully recovered, with some claiming that the conventional cage-farming method could be facing a bleak future.
In the past, breeders harvested up to 800kg of matured ikan patin (silver catfish) per cage.
But, the number has dropped to around 300kg per cage over the last few months.
Some farmers had to wait up to eight months to harvest the fish, compared with six months previously.
Caged fish breeder Zulkafli Yahya said this started following the dry season in 2013 and 2014, and the floods, which swept away most of the cages and caused river water to be murky.
The 36-year-old, who has been breeding fish in Kampung Pangsenam here since 2007, said just when breeders were recovering from the floods, they were hit by the El Nino phenomenon, causing them to suffer more losses.
“These days, the weather is unpredictable. Sometimes, the river experiences high tide several times a week. And, farmers usually face problems when there is a sudden drop in river water level.
“The farm here used to have 200 cages. Now, we have only 52 cages. The floods in 2014 and 2015 hit the caged fish industry badly and changed the river’s course.
“When it rains, the water level rise and river water will be murky. During low tide, the water level will drop, leaving fish in shallow waters.”
He said a full harvest season usually lasted six to seven months.
He said it was tough for breeders to meet orders placed by restaurants, and some of them were forced to team up.
He said most breeders now preferred to sell fish to customers who stopped at their roadside stalls.
“Some breeders supply fish to restaurants in Kuala Lumpur up to three times a week. If the production continues to drop, how are we going to meet the demand?
“I dare not imagine what is in store for the industry in the future.”
Temerloh Youth Council chairman Saharuddin Ahmad, 32, said in the past, he and members of the council used to harvest up to a tonne of ikan patin per cage.
He said now, it took about eight months to harvest 1kg of the fish, compared with six months previously.
“Previously, we could earn RM5,000 per cage. Now, we earn RM3,000.”
Temerloh Bhd Caged Fish Breeders and Fishermen Cooperative chairman Datuk Abu Hanipah Majid said breeding ikan patin in fibreglass tanks could arrest the drop in production.
He said caged fish breeding technology in Sungai Pahang was introduced under the Integrated Agriculture Development project 30 years ago, and that it was time to move on to new methods.
“Most of the fish farmers here are established, with large capital. Our concern is the newcomers. Introducing the latest technology will allow them to learn and use it for the future.”
He said fibreglass tanks would pump water from the river into a special filter before releasing it into the tanks. The water would be channelled back into the river, which would allow fish to remain fresh.
“Tanks will be placed on higher ground and farmers do not have to worry about cages being swept away during floods, or fish dying during the dry season.
“Fibreglass tanks can last up to 15 years, compared with the seven years of a fish cage.”
Caged fish breeder Zakaria Hussin, 47, described the new technology as “easier said than done” as the cost to install the piping to pump river water and drain it back into the river would be expensive.
“Breeders are open to new ideas, but our concern is the cost and whether the technology can guarantee the quality of fish harvested.
“At the moment, demand is great, but supply remains uncertain due to several factors, including pollution, sand mining and the drop in water level in Sungai Pahang, believed to be due to logging upstream.