Cockle hub in preparation for Pontian
January 6, 2022
The Johor Fisheries Department plans to introduce 10 cockle farms this year, mostly centered in the Pontian.
This is part of the state government’s initiative to transform the Pontian District into a national hub of the Hull.
Department Director Zainudin Abd Wahab said the project will be carried out in phases with a maximum of 15 fishermen for each cockle farm.
He said the state government allocated RM500,000 for the two-year program.
“The Johor Lands and Mines Department (PTG) has given us the green light.
“We are considering 15 plots in total, including 10 from this year.
“We will start with two plots in Pontian in the first quarter of this year, followed by two plots in Muar, three in Batu Pahat and the other three in Pontian as well,” he said.
He added that the five additional plots would also be put in place next year in Pontian.
Zainudin said each plot would be around 30 ha wide. Expanding fishing industry
The initiative was announced by Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad during the Johor 2022 budget speech last November.
Currently, the department is in the final phase of discussions with the land office on the granting of a temporary occupation permit (TOL) to the fishermen concerned.
It also finalizes the list of participants for the entire program.
“More importantly, we already have the place to manage the project and identified the cockle breeders who will launch the initiative in Pontian.
“The success or failure of the project will depend on the willingness of the participants as they will be fully responsible from start to finish.
“This is part of the myKomuniti Perikanan (myKP) program,” Zainudin said, adding that it would be a two-year pilot project.
MyKP was launched in 2018 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Food Industry to develop the fishing industry.
The Fisheries Department website says that up to March 21, 153 myKPs have been in place.
Zainudin said the project could take up to 12 months to show results, as only full-time cockle breeders would be allowed to participate.
“We will start by cleaning the base of the cockle cultivation plot before sowing the seeds.
“The cost is minimal because they are already natural breeding grounds for the cockles.
“From now on, each farmer will be responsible for protecting his plots, especially against theft.
“They can’t expect government agencies to patrol these areas 24 hours a day.
“But since they are part of myKP, they can report suspicious activity in their area,” he said, adding that the fishermen would be the eyes and ears of the department.
Zainudin said the cockles were considered “black gold” locally and could only breed in certain states outside of Johor, namely Perak, Selangor and Melaka.
“We want to develop the industry because currently, we don’t have enough for local consumption.
“So through this project, we hope to increase our production rate and maybe export hulls to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Thailand,” he said.
Huge potential in a growing industry
Zainudin pointed out that last year the department recorded more than 628 metric tons of cockles, nearly five times the amount harvested in 2020 (146 metric tons), while the figure for 2019 was 179 metric tons.
“So clearly there is huge potential to develop this industry, and we hope this project will be the starting point,” he said.
“The hull market is booming. About 30 years ago 70kg could only net 35 RM, but people would still think twice before buying it.
“But today the price could be 10 times higher as demand for the shellfish continues to soar,” he noted.
Thinking back to his early years harvesting cockles, fisherman Dawik Mohammad Ali, 58, said there were so many cockles in Ayer Baloi, Pontian, but few people ate them at the time.
“I should beg people to buy them from me because the cases weren’t a ‘mainstream’ menu item back then,” he said.
Over time the demand for cockles increased and before he knew it there were about 14 fishermen “competing” against him in the market.
“Before, we were only a handful and the ‘tauke’ (owner of the market) of Batu Pahat only bought a 70 kg bag per day.
“But then the market grew and I didn’t have the strength to deliver 70kg per day on my own anymore, so I asked my friends to harvest cockles instead,” Dawik said, who is the head of myKP in Ayer Baloi.
He said he could easily get 70kg of cockles in the morning, sell them in the afternoon and come back in the evening, adding that it was his routine now.
Dawik said a kilogram of cockles could fetch up to RM10 today, depending on the size.
According to Dawik, the cockle harvest period generally runs from September to December, while the mating season runs from January to June.
“We don’t usually harvest until August because the hull size would otherwise be too small for consumption.
“We can only harvest once we get permission from the Fisheries Research Institute and Department of Fisheries in Johor,” he said, adding that a harvest permit would not be. issued only during this period.
Currently there are 34 fishermen in Ayer Baloi in the cockle trade and each of them is only allowed to harvest a maximum of 100 kg per day.
“We want to make sure this natural resource is sustainable and not overexploited,” Dawik said.
He revealed that there were six other cockle harvesting sites in Pontian, namely Tampok, Benut, Sanglang, Pulai Sebatang, Api-Api and Pontian Besar.
Regarding the Johor Fisheries Department’s cockle rearing project, he expressed hope that the department would tackle the theft problem.
Win-win proposition for all
Pulai Sebatang MyKP chief Ismail Mohd Hassan, 50, said increased engagement was needed between the state government, Johor Fisheries Department and Pontian fishermen on the cockles project.
“We want to help ensure the success of this pilot project, because it will be a win-win situation for everyone.
“This project is something new, not only for the fishermen but also for the ministry and the government.
“Usually with something new there will be problems along the way, and some problems may require government intervention,” he said.
Ismail Mohd added that expanding the hull industry in Pontian and turning it into an agri-tourism product would be good for the district.
Meanwhile, fisherman Hairul Salleh Md Tahir, 50, is in charge of operating the hull cleaning tank system dubbed “Molluscure”.
“The system was developed by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and has been used by the fishing community here since 2016 to clean harvested hulls.
“The cleaning tank helps remove toxic metals from the hulls,” he said, explaining that the process could take up to three hours for two tons of hulls.
He added that rainwater, vinegar reagent and sea salt were used during the cleaning process.
Besides the cockles, the state fisheries department is also planning a lobster farming project.