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New Straits Times 08 April 2001

Fishermen find the going tough

By Deborah Loh

FISH wholesaler Zainol Abidin, 47, seems rather nonchalant about Langkawi's new municipality and Tourism City status.

"What do I think about it? Well, I hope we can tumpang (hop on board) whatever kemajuan (progress) it's supposed to bring," he says as he sorts and weighs fish at the Tanjung Rhu jetty.

If Zainol sounds slightly cynical, it's because he would like the authorities to remember islanders like him who have chosen to remain in traditional sectors like fishing, instead of taking up jobs in hotels or in Kuah town.

"It's a personal choice, whether to continue fishing like our fathers or not. In any case, many of us wouldn't feel comfortable doing anything else. Fishing has been our way of life." The well-known plight of inshore fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by big fishing trawlers encroaching on coastal waters has not missed this resort island.

"They come too close to shore, into our territory. Their nets sweep up everything and leave little for us to catch," says fisherman Bakar Hamid, 40, who works off the island's northern waters from Tanjung Rhu. "They also damage coral beds and destroy the sea's ecosystem." He would like the local Fisheries Department to be swifter in responding to incident reports.

"Once they said they didn't have enough fuel to send out a patrol boat." The authorities have admitted financial and manpower constraints before.

But the situation illustrates the need for a holistic approach to tourism, not just on Langkawi, but anywhere else.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association meets in Kuala Lumpur today for its 50th anniversary conference to discuss conservation as the tourism industry's key selling point.

Conservation should distinguish between building million-ringgit garish tourist infrastructure and enhancing the natural assets of a place.

However, it should not be applied to historical buildings or natural environment alone, but to people and their way of life.

In rural areas, conservation should not turn the locals into objects but guardians of their heritage.

It should allow the natives of a place to feel proud of their past while engaging the future.


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