VILLAGERS at Kampung Suasa in the Beaufort District of Sabah celebrated a bountiful harvest of giant fresh water prawns, popularly known by locals as ‘udang galah’ on August 9 following the introduction of the ‘Tagal System’ of fish conservation for rural communities along river banks.
I was invited by Deputy Director of the Fisheries Department, Jephrin Z Wong to visit the village and witness the first of such an event not only for the state of Sabah, but for Malaysia as a whole.
According to him, this is the first udang galah harvest in the country since the tagal approach in conservation of fish products along rivers took off in three districts in Sabah in 2000.
This particular tagal site for Kg Suasa is along a 3km stretch of Sungai Terusan Suasa-Nabahan, a tributary of Padas River.
The area is about 5km from the sea coast, an ideal breeding ground for udang galah. Wong told me on the way to the site that these prawns thrive in brackish water, a mix of fresh and sea water.
Speaking at a simple ceremony after seeing the catch being brought in by about 50 Kampung Suasa residents who took part in the harvest, Wong noted that he had witnessed a bigger catch that day than what he saw before.
“That is a good sign and we shall make this kampung an example for other villages for conservation of udang galah,” he announced.
He also disclosed that two more udang galah tagal sites would soon be opened, one each at Sipitang and Beluran, and before the end of the year, there would be a total of six such sites in the state.
He said there are now a total of 465 tagal sites in 14 districts in Sabah for conservation of river fish. Ranau District is at top of the chart with a total of 74 such sites, followed by Tambunan with 80 and Tuaran District where 60 villages have adopted this system.
Although initiated in 2000, the official establishment of a model tagal site took place at Babagon village in the Penampang District of Sabah in 2002.
The tagal system took a new turn when conservation of udang galah was officially introduced in Beaufort in 2011.
Wong said in his speech that with the good example shown by villagers at Kampung Suasa, his department had received requests from neighbouring kampungs for the tagal sites to be opened for them as well.
Haji Ruslan Muharam (left), chairman of the Udang Galah Tagal Committee at Kampung Suasa, told Borneopedia in an interview that in the past the village had faced problems from some fishermen who had used illegal methods in catching prawns and fish from the river.
“There are no longer such illegal fishing practices that include the use of poison, now that we have introduced the tagal system here,” he declared.
According to Ruslan, four other kampungs in the area had expressed an interest to follow suit, including Kampung Nabahan nearby.
He felt that the system should be extended in order to reduce the negative fishing practices since there is now better understanding of the system.
He explained that this was a form of incentive for the committee to ensure that proper enforcement of tagal rules and regulations at the site.
“The committee and our Department are jointly responsible for this enforcement. It is a smart partnership that is in place to ensure the tagal system works well on the ground,” he explained.
Wong also said in his speech that his department agrees to fulfill the kampung’s request for the construction of a ‘pondok’ or shed by the river bank to serve as a monitoring point for its tagal site.
Among officials present to witness the harvest by Kampung Suasa villagers included: Abdul Kahar Hassan, the officer in charge of Fisheries Department at Beaufort; village heads Hj Kida Assan (Kampung Suasa), Badarikin Lundu (Kampung Nabahan), and Matjinah Samat (Kampung Lago).
Also there were officials from the Tagal System Unit and Communications Unit of the Fisheries Department who had traveled all the way from Kota Kinabalu to see how the tagal system is progressing on the ground.
Top picture by LEE YEN PHIN.