Keeping the Kotak fishing tradition afloat

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Yii and Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong hand over allocation to help the Kotak fishermen in Kuching. – The New Sarawak picture.

Jack Lapidus

LIKE the once ubiquitous Kotak fishing boats, Kotak fishermen in Kuching may soon fade into obscurity.

Not only did Kotak fleets dwindle over the years, so has the number of Kotak fishermen.

The Sungai Apong Kotak Fishermen Association of Kuching used to have more than 100 members in the 1980s, The Borneo Post reported.

Today, the association only has 17 active members out of a total of 80 registered members.

Kotak, which means box in Bahasa Malaysia, refers to the fishing boat where its distinctive feature is the flat bow similar to that of a box.

These unique fishing boats are known for their distinctive colours, and were a common sight back in the sixties when they were mainly used by fishermen from the Henghua community.

What’s the reason behind this dwindling number of the Kotak fishermen?

According to Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, many of these Kotak fishermen were aging and had difficulties finding young local workers who were interested to assist them at sea.

They have tried to recruit locals but many shun because it is a laborious job.

He met association members to hand over a special allocation of RM34,000 to assist them in purchasing fishing equipment in Kuching yesterday.

In a bid to help these fishermen, Dr Yii said he will be highlighting this issue during the next Parliamentary sitting which starts on March 9.

He hoped that special consideration can be made for the association to hire foreign workers.

Section 10(1)(c) of the Fisheries Act 1985, does not allow the hiring of foreign workers in this area.

“But we hope that special consideration can be made especially if these fishermen have tried all avenues to recruit local worksds including advertising in newspapers and getting the word out to people,” he said.

Dr Yii will be meeting Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub on the matter.

One of the conditions proposed for the special consideration include that the fishermen must be on board the boat with their foreign workers during their fishing activities.

“This means that they cannot just hire foreign workers and let these workers run the show.

“They must also be on the boat so that we can ensure our maritime resources are prioritised for our own consumption and own use,” he said.