By: Michelle Liew
Being a fisherman is not at all a strange career choice for Nor Athira Yasak, 27, who hails from Batu Uban, Penang because she has been gaining experience at sea since the age of six by accompanying her father who is a fisherman.
Despite having a family and busy with her day job as a cafe worker from 8am to 6pm, Nor Athira continues with her passion at sea by catching belangkas (Atlantic horseshoe crab) with her husband Edy Yusrizal, 28.
Nor Athira is usually assisted by her two nephews, Mohd Faiz Haikal, 15, and Mohd Aiman Radzi, 14.
According to Nor Athira, catching belangkas requires high dexterity, skill and patience. She stated that she managed to learn all of that through her father, Yasak Zakaria, 81. Her father no longer catches belangkas due to ill health.
Nor Athira explained that her father Yasak started catching belangkas as a source of income in the early 1990s and usually brought his children along. Nor Athira is the ninth out of ten siblings.
Her father was one of the first few people in the village of Batu Uban, Penang who caught the sea animal as it was not a popular choice of seafood.
At that time, her father was a fisherman on the coast and looked for belangkas near their house in Batu Uban to be used as a meal for the family and for sale. However, at that time not many people were willing to eat belangkas and one was sold for only RM4.
"Usually we search along the coast of Pantai Jerejak (about two kilometres from the house) to catch eel. This animal is also only available in certain seasons, which is when the tide is full and the moon is full.
"There is also a way to catch this belangkas. When you see a long cluster of foam in the water, that is a sign that there is a belangkas. Just see such a cluster of foam, and catch it with your hands. This requires skill and hand dexterity because there are sharp parts all over the tail and body.
"Lifting the sledgehammer is a risk for me too but because I already know the catching technique, it is now much easier. I'll lift the sledgehammer from the front to avoid hitting the hand.
"Besides that, we have to make sure that the tide is full, if it is not full, it is not possible to catch this belangkas," he told Bernama.
Nor Athira explained that catcing belangkas depends on luck because there are times when they will return empty-handed. She also stated that belangkas are usually caught in pairs, i.e. male and female.
Within a month, she would go to the beach five or six times according to the calendar on the date of the full tide day. The dates to pay attention to every month are 12, 13, 14, 15, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30.
"If you want to compare the search for belangkas in the past with today, it is indeed different. At that time, it was easy to catch belangkas. My father used to catch 40 to 50 of them. He was the only one who caught them. But now it has decreased quite a bit and sometimes only 20 can be caught," she said, adding that belangkas has become a traditional dish in her family.
A fresh belangkas is sold at the price of RM13 per piece while those that are ready to be boiled or cooked are priced at RM19 per piece.
No matter the challenge, Nor Athira said that she never felt ashamed or tired of catching belangkas.
"Regardless of what people think, it has become our routine, even if we work the next morning, we will still go to the beach in the middle of the night to look for belangkas.
Nor Athira agreed that the activity of catching belangkas needs to be pioneered by young people so that people will be more aware of its existence.