GEORGE TOWN: The government was today urged to review the aquaculture industrial zone (ZIA) for high-impact projects and stop development of new projects before it is too late.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia) president SM Mohamed Idris said the ZIA was a threat to natural surroundings and contribute to serious environmental problems.
He said the economic value of the aquaculture exports must not take precedence over the broader social, economic, and environmental value of the coastal zone.
“Local environment has been adversely affected by the export-oriented mass aquaculture industry,” he told a press conference in his office here today.
He said that the current methods of modern industrial aquaculture were all in serious need of reform as it would severely deplete natural fish and other marine live stocks.
“The government should halt the rapidly developing industry. They impact coastal ecosystems, affecting those dependent on the natural environment, especially fishermen.
He called on the government to focus on the conservation and protection of natural resources to enhance and restore the country’s fishery resources.
“Food security should always be an integral and crucial feature in the country’s socio-economy development policies,” said the prominent social activist.
The annual fisheries statistics indicated that brackish water aquaculture ponds cover 7,722.82 ha area in 2010 compared with 5,623.69 ha in 2006.
An analysis of changes in mangrove areas in Perak conducted by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) showed a 64% decline in mangrove forests from 1989 to 2009.
“Aquaculture development is a main cause of this decline,” said Idris.
SAM is concerned with the unhealthy trends because it involved massive land clearance and conversion, particularly mangrove forests, to build aquaculture ponds.
Idris said that lack of legal provisions to regulate the industry was a glaring weakness in the government’s policy.
For instance, he pointed out that there was no legislation to control discharge of effluents from aquaculture ponds.
The department of environment cannot take action if there was evidence of pollution from aquaculture ponds because it was not regulated under the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
He said even though there was a code for ‘good aquaculture practice’, it was not compulsory for developers to follow because it was not legally binding.
Marine life under threat
He added that the requirement for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for aquaculture projects involving clearance of over 50ha mangrove forest was not good enough.
Idris said the 50ha-limit for mangrove clearance created a loophole as most aquaculture projects cover areas below 50ha and had caused serious environmental damage.
He also pointed out that productive paddy fields have also been converted for aquaculture ponds, such as the 1,000-acres shrimp farming project in Kerpan, Kedah.
Idris said that the authorities approved aquaculture projects without consideration for the National Physical Plan, Structure and Local Plans.
He cited that under Terengganu’s Setiu district local plan 2003-2015, the area where the Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park was developed, was an environmentally sensitive area.
He said only recreational activities that would not cause adverse impact on the ecosystem were permissible.
“It clearly indicates a conflict of land use but the government still approved the 1,000ha aquaculture project in Setiu,” he said.
Also, the use of trash fish in the aquaculture industry threatens the survival of marine life because these trash fish consist of small, juvenile fish caught by the trawlers.
The annual fisheries statistics revealed total landing of trash fish was 21.52% or 307,439 tonnes out of 1,428,881 tonnes of total marine fish landing in 2010.
Trash fish is also the second largest fraction of fish landings by trawlers in 2010, amounting to 35.37% from 718,168 tonnes.
Idris warned that the high demand of trash fish for the aquaculture industry will encourage the use of trawl nets, which would destroy the marine ecosystem and deplete fish stock.
“Thus the use of trash fish for the aquaculture industry should be banned in order to ensure the survival of marine species,” he said.