PADANG BESAR: FOR the past year or so, Abdul Azhar Abdul Aziz, 29, a freshwater fishermen at Timah Tasoh Dam in Padang Besar, Perlis, has been earning a side income by renting his boat to anglers.
The state water catchment area is fast emerging as a hotspot among avid anglers in the northern states, who crave the thrill of catching the prized peacock bass, or ikan raja, as it is known among the locals.
Despite the boon, Azhar could not hide his grave concern, which is also shared by dozens of fishermen, whose livelihood depend on catching native fish species, such as lampan, tilapia and haruan in the man-made lake.
While the peacock bass attracts sports anglers, the species is also a ruthless predator.
Azhar could not tell how the peacock bass, which originated from Brazil, found its way into the lake, but the locals believed that it was released by those who reared the fish in aquariums.
“I think we began realising its presence less than two years ago, and ever since then, I noticed that we have been catching fewer native fish species.
“Until now, I could say the number of local fish that we are landing has dropped by almost 20 to 30 per cent, while the number of ikan raja is increasing tremendously,” he said.
While the peacock bass is popular among anglers, the fish does not have commercial value because the flesh is tasteless.
“Last year, the state Fisheries Department released 50,000 lampan fry into the lake to improve the native fish population .
“We had a rude shock when we saw how they were swarmed and eaten up by the peacock bass, and I think only a handful of the fry survived,” he said.
What worried him most was that some of the fishermen and local folks had spotted the peacock bass swimming in rivers downstream.
“The Fisheries Department told us to catch the ikan raja as many as possible and throw them away. We are also encouraging anglers to take home the fish.”
Azhar said he feared that the whole native species in the lake would perish in the next two or three years.
Another fisherman, Haiful Anuar Hassan, 36, said his daily income had suffered a severe plunge from RM100 to between RM30 and RM40 at the most.
A fishmonger, Abdul Wahab Khamis, 60, said his business was also suffered when the fishermen caught fewer native species.
“I have been plying this trade for 14 years and I noticed that the number of ikan raja has been growing rapidly over the last two years. Now it makes up almost 30 per cent of the fishes landed by the fishermen.”
Should this situation continue, chances are, the Timah Tasoh Dam, which is known for its delicious “pekasam fish” made of lampan, haruan and tilapia from the lake, will lose it for good.