Causes Week 2021: Fishing community in Singapore cultivates good habits to protect the environment

Causes Week, which is into its 10th iteration, runs this year from Dec 21 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community, for children and youth, in sports and arts, among others.

Members of the non-profit group Marine Stewards (in blue) carrying out sustainable fishing at Bedok Jetty, on Nov 23, 2021.
Members of the non-profit group Marine Stewards (in blue) carrying out sustainable fishing at Bedok Jetty, on Nov 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Even before casting the first line, 16-year-old recreational fisherman Benjamin Brighton would patrol the jetty, pick up litter and discarded fish, and keep an eye out for lines and hooks left behind.

The United World College student has been doing this since he joined LightSaltGame, a fishing group, a year ago. It was started by fishing enthusiasts, one of whom owns a store of the same name.

The recreational fishing community has also made it compulsory for participants in its annual fishing tournament to clean up the area before fishing.

This is to ensure that the areas in popular fishing spots, such as East Coast Park, are safe for humans.

Benjamin, who has been fishing for 10 years, said: "About five months back, my brother agreed to go fishing with me at Bedok Jetty. In just 30 minutes, he got a big hook stuck in his leg from walking around in sandals."

His 13-year-old brother had to go to hospital to get the hook removed as it still had bait on it, which could have caused a major infection.

A recent spate of cases has also shown how irresponsibly discarded fishing gear can hurt marine creatures, including critically endangered ones.

In May, a critically endangered hawksbill turtle was found, head severed from its body, off Pulau Hantu. It had been tightly bound in a discarded fishing net.

LightSaltGame's owner Michael Siew (left) and Mr Benjamin Brighton. PHOTO: BENJAMIN BRIGHTON

Scuba divers have, in recent months, also found nets smothering corals and marine creatures such as crabs.

Stepping up efforts to reduce the impact of recreational fishing on marine life, conservation non-profit organisation Marine Stewards introduced sustainable fishing guidelines in 2020.

Anglers were urged to, for instance, release juvenile fish back into the water and avoid taking critically endangered species such as the shovelnose ray.

Marine Stewards also started a three-hour workshop, FishX, which was supported by volunteers from the local fishing community.

A wrasse being taken off the hook during sustainable fishing at Bedok Jetty, on Nov 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

A spokesman said: "(By normalising these practices),we hope that Singapore will have a thriving marine ecosystem that all will be able to experience."

Another group, SGFishingRigz - a fishing store started by six students and which has a fishing influencer TikTok account of the same name - has a programme to buy used rigs and sinkers from fishermen so that these toxic lead objects are not disposed of incorrectly.

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The store has also been working with Temasek Polytechnic to create sinkers made of bismuth, a substitute heavy metal that is about 15,000 times less toxic than lead. They are being trialled under the FishX programme.

Recognising the importance of collaboration among groups, an SGFishingRigz spokesman said: "We hope to work closely with (various fishing agencies) and more anglers in protecting our waters and making fishing an enjoyable sport."

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