Mohamed Hashim Hussein at the Ramadan Bazaar selling grilled tuna Foto Bernama

Yellowfin Tuna Made Affordable To Malaysians

By Melati Mohd Ariff

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Today's Ramadan bazaars sell more than the usual fare that we expect to find during the fasting month. Stalls today sell more than just traditional kuih, murtabak, popiah or rice dishes.

The writer chanced upon a stall at the Setiawangsa Ramadan bazaar selling coal-grilled chilli-coated fish wrapped in banana leaf.

The sign hanging under the stall's blue tent says "IKAN TUNA BAKAR RM6.00" (Grilled Tuna RM6.00).

The stall is one of the marketing strategies of Borneo YellowFin Tuna Sdn Bhd to promote the fish to the local market.

"We have been actively promoting the fish since eight months ago. We are also selling fresh yellowfin tuna at TS-04 of the Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) Wet Market.

"From time to time we are also promoting food using fresh tuna fillet such as nasi lemak with tuna rendang, fish balls, burger, kebab and salad," said Mohamed Hashim Hussein, the company's marketing director.

He told Bernama that the company had proposed to AEON Big in MidValley to market the yellowfin tuna at the supermarket.

"We hope that after Hari Raya, customers will be able to buy our tuna at the supermarket," he said.

The company has also applied to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to open up a stall as Medan Selera Setiawangsa selling various tuna-based dishes, particularly grilled tuna.

PROMOTIONAL PRICE

The tuna fish industry has long flourished in ASEAN countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

In fact, the level of health and longevity of the Japanese people has been associated with their love for tuna.

"The Japanese love the bluefin tuna caught in the Indian Ocean, but as the species is icreasingly becoming rare they have come to accept the yellowfin tuna.

"This is indeed good news for us," said Mohamed Hashim.

Tuna is typically expensive, with prices reaching up to hundreds of ringgit per kilogramme.

However, with Borneo YellowFin Tuna marketing the fish in the local market, its price has become as affordable as the red snapper, grouper and mackerel.

The company is currently marketing the high quality yellowfin tuna at a promotional price of between RM30 and RM59 per kg.

"We want everyone to be able to enjoy the taste and benefits of fresh tuna. The fish has a high content of Omega-3 fatty acids which promotes heart health and reduces anxiety and depression," said Mohamed Hashim.

FISHING FOR TUNA

Malaysia's yellowfin tuna is caught in the Sulawesi Sea near the Mabul islands in Sipadan and off Semporna, Sabah.

Mohamed Hashim said the company used Mabul Island as its port of call with nearly 99 per cent of the island residents involved in the fishing trade.

Mabul Island is around an hour's journey from Semporna town by boat and is also near to the popular island getaway, Sipadan.

"Some 400 families reside on Mabul Island and depend on yellowfin tuna fishing activities for their livelihood.

"Besides catching the fish ourselves, we also buy from the fishermen on the island," said Mohamed Hashim.

He said the tuna is usually bought from fishermen while at sea.

"We pay cash, on the spot. The fishermen used to sell to other parties who sometimes delayed payment. We have also taught them the proper ways of catching and processing yellowfun tuna. These are among the ways we are helping them," he explained.

The methods of catching and processing the fish have to be done carefully to preserve its quality and freshness.

Mohamed Hashim said the company initially spent a lot of time studying both methods in the Philippines, which has a developed tuna industry.

He revealed that while the fishermen on Mabul Island have been fishermen for decades, many were still unaware of the most efficient method of catching and processing the fish to maintain its quality.

"The handling of tuna is a critical process.

"I hear the Japanese are even willing to divorce their wives over mistakes in storing and cooking tuna. Such is their appreciation of the fish," he said.

MAINTAINING FRESHNESS

Several steps need to be taken to ensure the freshness of tuna.

Medium-sized fish that are meant for delivery to Kuala Lumpur would be packed in polystyrene boxes while the big fish (up to 80kg) would be packed in special boxes to Tawau and transported to KL by flight.

"We place ice gel packs inside and on the fish," said Mohamed Hashim.

Every delivery to KL comprises between 800kg and a tonne of yellowfin tuna.

The company also sells at the Selayang Wholesale Market.

"We hope to expand the sales to Penang, Perak, Pahang and Johor.

"We are also planning to supply the fish to food courts around KL, Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam," he said.

ENVIRONMENTALLY CONCERNED

To ensure a continuous supply of the fish, Borneo YellowFin Tuna has taken several steps including abiding to the regulations stipulated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

According to Mohamed Hashim, among the steps are catching only yellowfin tuna that weighs above 20kg, as practiced in countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.

"We also tell this to the fishermen who sell their bounty to us.

"It's a win-win strategy that benefits all and our nation's small tuna industry," said Mohamed Hashim, adding that the yellowfin tuna caught in the waters off Mabul Island can reach up to 100kg in size.

-- BERNAMA