Thursday, July 14, 2016

Here’s why we should give the Singaporean authorities a break when it comes to illegal fishing in reservoirs

Did you know that the "LSR MRT Tracks" were illegal last time?
I’ve been reading rather strange opinions on fishing in Singapore lately. One of them was an article on The Independent which read, “PUB’s ‘No Fishing’ environmental policy is a short-sighted one”. Initially, I thought of just ignoring the whole issue which has been there since ages ago but no, I guess I have to share my take on the whole Singapore illegal fishing thing. I’ll keep my piece to our Singapore reservoirs and also these views are not necessarily replies to TI article and other strange opinions – they’re just what I think (after fishing in Singapore since I was 5).

The number one reason of why we should be chill about illegal fishing grounds is that illegal fishing grounds simply give fish a chance to recover. Lack of fishing pressure (even from anglers who catch and release) and fish stock pressure (for anglers that bring their catch back) contribute greatly to this since Singapore does not yet have a designated open/closed fishing season. It is very likely that once you open a reservoir up to fishing, fish stocks decline and fishing gets bad over time. Just ask those who have fished legal areas when they first opened up and after that. Pandan Reservoir was amazing before it was deemed legal – you could see big Soon Hock and Peacock Bass at the side of the jetty. It didn’t disappoint in the first few weeks of its opening but 4 years on, it now hardly produces any fish, not to mention quality fish. Other than the above reasons, illegal fishing grounds also give authorities a clear cut decision on enforcement action when it comes to nabbing illegal baiters or poachers that Singaporean lurers often complain about. See illegal poachers at Sungei Buloh.

Number two is simply the age old reasoning of safety in our reservoirs. Safety includes considerations like deep water and feral wild animals like wild boars or snakes. Most of us anglers are responsible adults and many of us (including me) would moan and say that we know what we are doing, just let us fish. Hang on now because aren’t we forgetting about the kids who go fishing? I don’t want to highlight irresponsible anglers who compromise safety during fishing but it is without doubt that the average age of anglers has been going down. I know many of these kid anglers like Pierre Ong and safety comes first for these kids because they are simply too young to be able to fish responsibly at areas which can be challenging or less safe (like slippery breakwaters).

If you look at the illegal freshwater fishing spots around Singapore, one would also realise that almost all of them are either private or designated as conservation catchment areas. Fishing areas located at Marina Barrage, Marina Bay and numerous Golf Courses are almost all private. Other fishing spots which may lie deep into the catchment area are already designated for conservation. Some may argue that in developed countries, fishing is still permitted in areas meant for conservation but that’s another story altogether. If you look around us, fishing in Marine Parks (like Tioman) are a big no. Authorities will never take the risk because not all anglers may fish responsibility and it only takes one bad egg to spoil the whole crate. The question is that if it’s private property or for conservation then what’s the point of pinning the authorities down?

One of my favourite ones is that fishing in Singapore still isn’t going to result in any superior, economy boosting industry or tourist attraction yet. Many folks (myself include) believe in the massive potential that our waters can provide but many forget that the fishes in our reservoir aren’t even native (not even Tomans are native). The world class freshwater fishing places like Brazil or Thailand have boasted years of heritage, culture and history. The fish that anglers land have shattered IFGA records. Unless Singaporeans engage the authorities objectively and go develop our waters into sustainable freshwater sport fishing attractions, we’ll still be stuck in this area. So fishpreneurs or entrepreneurs, this is your game. Do us proud.

Does anyone also realise that the authorities have in the last few years, opened up more legal fishing spots for us? Not many of us were luring back in those days but in those days, the only legal fishing spots were in places like Lower Seletar Reservoir (even the MRT tracks area was illegal) and Kranji Reservoir. These days, there are 10 legal fishing areas (out of 17 possible reservoirs) that Singaporeans can choose from. My other point is also that according to the PUB, fishing violations have doubled in the last two years and while anglers may argue that’s because legal fishing spots don’t produce, that’s utter nonsense because let me paraphrase the whole thing for you. Simply put, if more anglers are violating rules and breaking trust, do you expect the authorities to then open up more fishing grounds for you? The authorities have to be logical here and if they have already opened up more grounds for fishing and anglers continue to venture into illegal fishing grounds, what will they do?

Another hands down reason that everyone can accept is that the primary usage of our Singapore reservoirs are meant for collecting water. As PUB director of catchment and waterways Ridzuan Ismail said, “While it has opened up reservoirs for activities like water sports and fishing, they serve "first and foremost" as storage for raw water.” As Singapore faces water challenges like water supply shortages, the threat of drought and climate change, do you think that resources will be spent to see how better fishing can be provided to the public? The bulk of our authorities resources (and rightly so I say, as a responsible citizen) will be spent on ensuring that Singaporeans continue to have access to affordable drinking water.

The density of the Singaporean population is also one important aspect we should look at. Singaporean anglers often compare the fishing permits and how anglers have fantastic fishing spots set aside in many developed countries overseas. One prime example is Australia and many Singaporeans want the fishing permit system here. I’m sorry to inform everyone but to compare Singapore (a country with 750km2 land mass) with Australia is simply illogical. Here’s a simple calculation (I’m not math wizard)… Singapore has 5.4 million folks with 720 km2 land mass while Australia has 23 million km2 to 7.6 million folks. In other words, there are about 7500 people per 1km2 in Singapore compared to 3 people per 1km2 in Australia. That means that every 1 km2 in Singapore, there are probably 7500 people with varying views of what fishing means to them! To be honest, it’s already amazing that we have a local, thriving fishing community here in Singapore. As fish stocks and fishing spots go down, it seems that the fishing community has followed an opposite trend. 

Some upbeat news though is that when the authorities are engaged objectively, success can result. After all, there are also avid fishermen and reasonable folks working in the civil service. Have you ever wondered at how Kayak Fishing has evolved over the past few years? Kayak anglers and merchandise owners alike have long been involved in educating the authorities and being responsible in their fishing. The community had even been involved with PA Water-Venture (a government initiative) to conduct conservation/clean-up operations and fishing activities. While I must say that during Kayak Fishing, we often face challenges communicating variations and interpretations of rules/laws with the authorities (Coast Guard, Marine Port Authority and so on), it is always on the basis that Kayak Fishing was new to the authorities and not something that they had prior knowledge of. As Kayak Fishing got more common and authorities got more relaxed (or experienced) at handling Kayak Fishing, a “healthy” sort of equilibrium ensued. I’m not exactly how sure how long this equilibrium will last but until now, they have been no reported major incidents or accidents with regards to Kayak Fishing and that’s because many Kayak Fishing anglers (I would know since I used to have a fishing kayak myself) invest in safety, fish responsibility and at the end of the day, cherish a privilege that they have been given.

To end off my part ranting, part objective piece, I do hope that anglers can channel their frustrations (I fish too so I understand) into building or investing into a more productive or objective means of getting their views across. Take the Kayak Fishing folks for example and look at what they have done. The best way forward is often self-stewardship and a care for your community.


Nigel may not be the most enthusiastic fishing professional out there but he certainly has his views. While he is not a qualified academic, he is an environment enthusiast with a particular interest in sustainable fishing, urban farming and climate issues. He has been featured in the media for a few fishing related cover stories and articles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't agree that PUB has opened up more spots for fishing. Instead they have taken away more. Before they built the Punggol and Marina reservoirs we could fish at the Singapore and Kallang rivers and all the connecting drainage system. Now it all gone. Same goes for Punggol reservoir, all the connecting rivers and drainage system together with Coney Island gone. All our reclaimed coastlines gone, all fishing prohibited. Mac Ritchie reservoir used to have a sizeable legal area but now it has been taken away leaving us with only a 20m area that is crisscrossed with submerged wires. It has become a joke. The population has exploded but the fishing areas have shrunk tremendously.
We sports fishermen want the PUB to license us to fish and fine heavily those caught fishing without a valid licence. As for fishing pressure,we have so many reservoirs we can rotate them by closing each of them for six months to recover.
We can also help the PUB to record the types and sizes of the fishes caught and from where and when. And to also help the PUB better understand the ecology, we can also help to tag the fishes caught and release.
By licensing us, you are giving us ownership of our waters and we are your partners

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