People from all over the world will venture the waters to experience the excitement of catching (and releasing) billfish
By AFIQ AZIZ / Pic By DZUL ASYRAF
For ordinary folks, it does not make sense to catch a huge fish and not bring it home to the family for perhaps a big feast, but to serious anglers, the bragging rights are all they might be after.
In fact, the more endowed would travel to various parts of the world just to be able to score the biggest haul and get their pictures taken as they attempt to reel in the fish of the day.
Rompin might just be a sleepy hollow in most parts of the year, but for several months from April, people from all over the world would venture the waters to experience the excitement of catching (and releasing) billfish.
For the uninitiated, the term billfish refers to a group of predatory fish characterised by prominent bills, or rostra, and by their large size; some are longer than 4m.
Billfish include sailfish and marlin, which make up the family Istiophoridae, and swordfish, sole member of the family Xiphiidae.
Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac) director for the Pahang office Datuk Idros Yahya said the activity has been contributing much to the local economy.
The Rompin’s Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge (RPBIC), for example, has brought the world’s attention to the state since 2004.
“When we embarked in 2004, there were only four speed boats that were available for billfish catch here. Now, there are nearly 50 speedboats, and each of them is receiving high demand including in the weekdays,” he said.
The charge for a speedboat could be as high as RM1,800 per day, based on its size and engine capacity, and usually fully booked on weekends.
“The total economic impact for our boatmen could reach more than RM20 million a year and that includes accommodation and food businesses,” he added.
Idros said the Rompin seas are dominated by sailfish between April and November every year, making it attractive to sports anglers.
He said the marlins are also migrating to the Rompin area as it offers the perfect food chain and ecosystem for the species.
It is also believed that the sea currents that bring the sailfish and marlins to Rompin are connected with China and Australia.
“We have found that when we tag some of the billfish some years ago, they were found in the Australian waters the following year,” he said.
Idros said since 2004, the foot traffic in Rompin has also increased, especially during the eight-month period, indicating that the sports fishing industry in the district has greater potential to grow further.
“Last August, we also organised a specific billfish tournament for 200 anglers from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. They spent three nights for the programme and that spelt more income for Rompin villagers,” he said.
As for the boat rental businesses, Idros reckons that businessmen can offer a better facility to the anglers which, in turn, will provide them better earnings.
“Our visitors and tourists are willing to spend more for higher specifications of the boats, but we can only offer the medium-sized models,” he said.
Idros said currently, RPBIC is already recognised as part of the International Game Fish Association circuit calendar.
The winner for the recently held 14th RPBIC can participate in the Offshore World Championship (OWC) in Quepos, Costa Rica, under the Malaysian flag next April.
As the stake is higher, he said more upgrades are needed to keep Rompin abreast with the rest of the international game fish markets.
“If our businessmen can offer higher quality, better capacities and facilities, they definitely can earn as high as RM10,000 per day, as the demand is there,” Idros added.
Currently, the medium-sized boats that are used among the skippers in Rompin are worth about RM300,000 each. Boats with higher capacities could be worth up to half a million ringgit.
“We are talking to some financial institutions such as SME Bank to lend a hand,” Idros said.
Since RPBIC’s inception, many industry players are also making their presence felt in Rompin, to promote their fishing equipment and products.
According to its district officer Datuk Mohd Zulkifli Hashim, as of last year, Rompin has a population of 130,000, a significant jump from 114,900 residents in 2011.
He said the increase indicates that the younger generation is not migrating to the bigger town for employment.
In 2017, Pahang recorded some 14.8 million visitors. The state also aims to maintain the figure of about 15 million foot traffic annually.
At the 14th edition of RPBIC, which ended on Sept 16, a total of 146 billfish catches were recorded.
The Kelah Gold team from Malaysia was announced the champion and brought home RM20,000 cash, along with other fishing equipment as the grand prize.
The group caught 16 sailfish during the two-day event, accumulating a total of 9,600 points.
Kelah Gold team manager Talmisani Idris said the anglers are all fired up to participate at the OWC championship in Costa Rica, slated between April 28 and May 3, 2019.
The team is now campaigning various business players and the government for sponsorships.
“We estimate that the overall cost would be around US$50,000 (RM206,650), including our one-week dry-run preparation before the event.
“We will go with a winning mindset, and come back a champion,” Talmisani said.
For the 14th RPBIC, the Kelah Gold team spent over RM70,000 of its own funds.
At the 2014 OWC, Malaysia was represented by New Zealand anglers who won at the Rompin circuit.
That was the only year the country was represented in the world championship.
Last season, 255 world-class anglers from 29 different countries joined the 18th annual OWC championship.
If the Kelah Gold team makes it to Costa Rica, it will be a historical moment for Malaysia.
The Kelah Gold team defeated 24 other teams from various countries, including Australia, China, India, Singapore, Germany and Japan.
The event was organised by Motac, the state’s Tioman Development Authority, Tourism Pahang and the Malaysia Angling Association (PeMM).
“Several Malaysians had won at the Rompin circuit, but they did not get enough support to go to Costa Rica. Maybe people do not really understand how big this event and the industry is,” PeMM president Ridzuan Ghazali said.
He added that planning for the recent event in Rompin took a while due to the general election in May.
“Although we have been appointed since last March, we did not receive a clear signal after the new government took over — either to resume or not. We only got the green light last month.
“So, with limited time and budget, we still ran the show. We are also happy that the tournament had received good sponsorships — double the amount we achieved last year,” he said.
He said RPBIC is not only meant to promote sport fishing activities, but also to uplift the economy and standard of living among the locals.
“We should look into the spillover effect it offers to the people in Rompin,” Ridzuan said.