Youth volunteers to offer tips on fishing sustainably

Conservation non-profit Marine Stewards launches workshops on sustainable fishing

The fish dangling on the line gleamed with a healthy sheen of pink - the promise of a star catch - but, upon closer inspection, revealed itself to be a juvenile and was quickly released back into the ocean.

This is common practice among regular fishing enthusiasts, but those newer to the hobby may not know how to do this.

To raise awareness and ensure that enough fish remain in Singapore's waters for future generations, conservation non-profit organisation Marine Stewards introduced sustainable fishing guidelines last year.

The guidelines include releasing juvenile fish and not returning invasive fish species, such as hybrid groupers, back into the water to protect native marine fauna.

These guidelines were formulated following an uptick in fishing activities during the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions saw a rise in amateur fishermen joining the scene.

To propagate these measures to those newer to fishing, Marine Stewards has launched FishX, a series of paid workshops to share tips on how to fish more sustainably.

These workshops will be run by a group of youth volunteers who will teach participants not only fishing techniques but also sustainable fishing etiquette, like releasing caught juveniles.

They are easy to spot at Singapore's popular fishing spots, with bright blue camouflage-print tops bearing the words "Ocean lovers are ocean protectors".

One of the problems faced by beginners is not being able to identify rare fishes. In July last year, this led to the capture and death of a honeycomb whipray, a vulnerable stingray species, off Bedok Jetty.

Mr Ryan Chin, a 17-year-old student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and head of Marine Stewards' FishX programme, said: "Singapore is blessed with over 500 species of marine fishes, yet most of us don't know they exist. When beginners lack awareness of venomous, rare or sensitive species, it may pose a threat to both them and the fish."

FishX participants will be taught how to identify fishes by the guides referencing National Parks Board's biodiversity and environment database, which maps biodiversity across Singapore.

Selected rare specimens caught will be donated to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for marine biology research.

Participants will also be educated on how to use fishing gear that upholds sustainable fishing standards.

This will be demonstrated by the owners of fishing shop SGFishing-Rigz, a start-up by four young people specialising in sustainable fishing equipment.

Circle hooks, for instance, increase fishes' chances of survival for release compared with the commonly used J-hooks that can sometimes puncture the guts of fish and fatally wound them.

Mr Benjamin Brighton, a 16-year-old student from the United World College of South-East Asia and one of the co-founders of SGFishingRigz, said: "When my group returned to angling after two months of the circuit breaker and no fishing permitted, the waters off Bedok Jetty were teeming with fish. On our first day back, we were able to catch about 50 fish."

A video he put together of the different fish being reeled in is nearly an hour long.

"This made us realise that a healthy, diverse fish population can easily be maintained as long as there is no overfishing in Singapore," said the student, who co-founded the fishing shop with fishing buddies he met at the jetty.

SGFishingRigz will provide the equipment used during the workshops. Owners of the shop will also be assisting in the FishX programme as volunteer guides.

Mr Alex Teo, a 53-year-old construction supervisor who has been fishing for more than 20 years, said: "There have been a lot of bad practices in the past of people overfishing and leaving fish out to waste, so it really warms my heart that these young people are trying to protect the animals in our ocean."

He added: "After all, these little lives are lives as well."

The workshops will be held at Bedok Jetty starting Dec 1. To participate, readers can sign up for a slot at www.marinestewards.org/product-page/fishx

It costs $68 per participant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Youth volunteers to offer tips on fishing sustainably'. Subscribe