KINABATANGAN – Having twice lost valuable caged fish in a span of 10 months to what appears to be river pollution, a community in Malaysia’s largest Ramsar site wants the government to review its policies on collecting water and other relevant samples.
One recommendation is for agencies entrusted with investigating such cases to relook at their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) as the delay in collecting samples does not translate into data that would be useful for mitigation or enforcement measures.
Mumiang Village Development and Security Committee head Mada Hussin said in July, 45 families lost four tonnes of caged fish such as groupers and snappers worth thousands.
He revealed some caged fish are worth up to RM50 per kilogramme, a lucrative alternative economic activity for villagers who traditionally depended on catching fish but are no longer able to due to dwindling stocks.
Mada said results of water and fish samples collected by the Fisheries Department, Environmental Protection Department and the federal Department of Environment were not shared with fishermen at Kampung Mumiang following cases in November last year and two months ago.
“It would be useful to hold a dialogue with the relevant agencies so that we can collaborate and look at the possibility of appointing water quality wardens from the community.
“We propose sampling stations be set up so that these community wardens can collect samples quickly. We also need to see how data collected by the community can be recognised.
“The relevant agencies must also frequently collect samples. The loss of aquatic biodiversity in the Lower Kinabatangan is an issue that impacts us and which is close to our hearts,” he said.
After the estimated RM100,000 losses in November last year, villagers received fish stocks from the government based on a subsidy mechanism and supplemented the supply by purchasing more.
“Now, most from this new stock has been destroyed. We only managed to salvage a few fish the moment we noticed something amiss,” he said.
Mada believes the Malangking river, a tributary of the Kinabatangan is polluted with run-off from an oil palm estate especially when it rains heavily. The waterway then turns light green indicating algal rich water which then impacts caged fish reared downstream.
“We have sent samples to the authorities and they too have come to collect samples. However, perhaps due to our remote location, staff often do not come quick enough and by then, pollutants are diluted or washed away.
“We are unsure why the relevant agencies have not provided us with feedback. There is nothing we can do, for example in terms of taking legal action against those who pollute the Malangking river or other waterways, impacting our livelihoods,” he said.
Reacting to what happened in Mumiang, Ramsar Community Group Project lead facilitator Neville Yapp said a key focus of the project is related to water quality.
“We need the government to be supportive of this, including how data collected by the community can be taken as valid. We have identified the setting up of four water quality monitoring units in the near future under this project,” he said.
The Ramsar Community Group project falls under Forever Sabah, an ecology of partnerships that works to transform innovative visions for Sabah’s future into actionable solutions.
Mumiang is located in the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands, has no road access and is about an hour away by speed boat from Sandakan town.
Mada said villagers have no choice but to continue rearing caged fish despite the risk of once again losing their fish in future.
“This has become a nightmare for us as there is not much else we can do here in order to earn a livelihood. We have families to raise and food to put on the table,” he said.