PONTIAN: Fishermen in southern Johor live from hand to mouth, having been badly affected by the land reclamation work in the area.
Many of the full-time fishermen here rely on government aid and allowances just to make ends meet, including the annual “wang ehsan” (compassionate money) of RM2,000.
The fishermen enjoyed the aid, which started in 2015 under the Barisan Nasional administration in Johor, and which lasted until 2017.
The state government previously said the payment was a one-off aid and that there was no guarantee that it would be given on a yearly basis.
Several weeks ago, a rumour had circulated that the fishermen would receive RM1,000 instead, but the date of the distribution was not given. The source of the rumour could not be determined.
Following that, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub said the claim about the state government planning to distribute the aid would be investigated.
This had distressed the fishermen.
On Wednesday, the New Straits Times met fishermen at the Parit Penghulu fishermen jetty in Mukim Serkat here, where they gave mixed reactions to the initiative.
Fisherman Abdul Halim Abdul Samad claimed that “someone from the state government” promised to distribute the aid.
He, however, refused to name the person.
“That (promise) gave us hope that we will be helped. But suddenly, I hear that we will not receive the aid. I can’t sleep at night thinking about my life as a fisherman,” he said.
“I have so many mouths to feed. I have seven children. It was bad enough that the aid will be reduced to RM1,000 from RM2,000, but not giving anything to us is stressing us out.”
Alias Awang, a fisherman at the same jetty, said he was hoping for the aid because he needed money to buy a new engine for his boat.
He said the money would also be used to repair his house.
“My house is made of wood and it’s very small. The condition of the wood is not good as the house is really old.
“If I find any piece of wood, I would take it home and use it to replace the floor in my house.
“I am hoping for the aid because RM1,000 is a lot for someone like me,” he said, adding that his loan applications to buy a new boat engine had been rejected several times.
The fishermen have a lot to worry about, compounded by the land reclamation at the coastline of southern Johor, which has made it difficult for them to get a big haul.
Jetties in the area also lacked basic facilities, such as fish storage space.
Fisherman Abdul Aziz Rahmat said he usually went out to sea at night and urged the Pakatan Harapan government to provide them with basic facilities.
“Before we go out to sea at night, we would like to have something to eat. Food stalls are needed because apart from providing us with meals, they can also help others get an income.”
“This could promote tourism because nobody wants to come to a place that lacks basic facilities. All I ask is for the government to acknowledge our struggles.
“If I catch 1kg of small prawns and sell it for RM30, I also have to pay RM35 for petrol for each trip.
“I am making a RM5 loss.”
Yesterday, following the announcement by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal, the NST returned to the same jetty.
Since the RM1,000 aid was confirmed, the fishermen said they could breathe a sigh of relief, even if it was only temporary.