S'pore youths teach beginners & families how to fish in a sustainable way

The teenagers catch fish like they are catching Pokémon -- by going for variety and releasing them.

Zi Shan Kow | November 24, 2021, 12:37 PM

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Fishing is one of the new popular hobbies in Singapore with nowhere to go and not much else to do.

But for many anglers starting out, the concept of sustainability is not at the heart of the activity, and they can sometimes unwittingly be fishing in illegal spots and getting caught.

To help educate those new to the activity, a group of young passionate anglers are working to change mindsets and habits.

Starting with a series of hands-on workshops in December, they will teach participants how to fish, as well as fish in line with sustainable fishing etiquette.

Fishing for biodiversity

The FishX workshops are spearheaded by avid angler Ryan Chin, a 17-year-old student.

"Singapore is blessed with over 500 species of marine fishes, yet most of us don’t know they exist," he said.

Over several years, Chin has recorded over 150 species of fishes at Bedok Jetty, and donated selected specimens for research purposes to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The project was designed in partnership with Marine Stewards, a marine conservation non-profit organisation that aims to bridge the gap between water sports and marine conservation.

"Through FishX, we want to equip more anglers with responsible fishing practices from the start," said Andrea Leong, the programme director of Marine Stewards.

"More importantly, through FishX we get to fulfil the dreams of a group of young passionate anglers who wish to save our marine life," added Leong.

A bluespotted watchmen goby, named for its symbiotic relationship with the pistol shrimp. The goby keeps a lookout for predators, while the shrimp builds burrows for both to live in together. Image by Kow Zi Shan.

A tiger perch, or Terapon theraps, a species that used to be more common in Bedok Jetty waters. Image by Kow Zi Shan.

A broad-banded cardinal fish, a species of mouthbrooding fish where the males incubates the eggs in its mouth until they hatch. Image by Kow Zi Shan.

Overfishing in Singapore

At Bedok Jetty, some Marine Stewards members shared with Mothership that there have been signs of decline in fish populations in Singapore due to unsustainable fishing practices.

These feedback have been confined to anecdotal evidence for now.

"I remember during the Circuit Breaker period, no one came to fish for quite a few months," 16-year-old Ian Ray, a volunteer with Marine Stewards, told Mothership.

"When it ended, there was a drastic improvement and the population had a rebound, so you can tell that fishing does affect the population," Ray explained.

While other anglers arrived at Bedok Jetty hoping to catch a hefty lunch, the Marine Stewards practise catch and release.

These small fish reside under the jetty near the bottom of the sea floor to hide from predators, and they are quick to latch onto the fishing bait.

As volunteers, Marine Stewards fish to document the species, and to "just have fun", shared 17-year-old youth James Low.

"We target for the variety, kind of like real-life Pokémon -- to catch them all," Low told Mothership.

My own catch of the day - thanks to the help of Marine Steward volunteers Ian Ray, James Low, and Alden Chee (left to right). Image by Marine Stewards.

A strapweed filefish, caught by SGFishingRigz co-founder Wayne Peh (left), and held by Benjamin Brighton (right). Image by Marine Stewards.

Where to find legal fishing spots

Youths Haikkel Firdhaus, Benjamin Brighton and Lucas Phua, founded fishing equipment store SGFishingRigz, the sponsor for fishing rods and rigs for the FishX workshops.

The Temasek Polytechnic students had also spent the last five months creating a public resource for fellow anglers and beginners, culminating in a map for legal, and in their opinion, good fishing spots in Singapore.

The map can be found on their website, and also freely available at their physical retail store in Paya Lebar Square.

"Beginners want to start fishing but they don't know where to go. We wanted to include locations where people didn't actually know were legal, and showing different catches at different spots," said Brighton.

With a passion for both sustainability and fishing, Brighton said the start-up caters to the beginner crowd, helping them get started with a basic yet affordable set-up and to avoid falling into the trap of vendors who upsell.

SGFishingRigz co-founders Benjamin Brighton (left), and Haikkel Firdhaus (right), with the store's beginner rigs. Image by Kow Zi Shan.

Early bird discount for FishX workshops

If you're a beginner, or simply want to learn about Singapore's fishes, the sustainable fishing workshops are held at Bedok Jetty in East Coast Park.

Dates: Dec. 1, 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 21, 31

Duration: 8:30am to 11:30am

All the required equipment is provided, and your experienced fishing guides will also teach you how to identify your catch.

The usual price for the expedition is S$88 for adults and S$68 for students and children aged 18 and below.

From now until Nov. 30, there is a S$20 discount for early birds - tickets are available on the Marine Stewards website.


Top images by Kow Zi Shan and Marine Stewards.