Fishermen thrilled with return of ‘bubuk’ season

Sabang selling the ‘bubuk’ he caught.
jeba assisting her
husband to sell ‘bubuk’.

BINTULU: Like their Miri counterparts, local fishermen both fulltime and part-time are thrilled with the return of the bubuk (krill shrimps) season because it brings them extra income. ‘Bubuk’ is the main ingredient for the locals to make ‘belacan’ (shrimp paste) and cencaluk (fermented shrimps). Mustapha Mahli, 52, of Kampung Kemunting here said the shrimp season normally occurred in February and March, lasting for a few weeks to a month.

According to a seasoned shrimp catcher, it’s very hard to predict where and when the bubuk will appear. One hour they may be at a certain spot but the next, they can be somewhere else. “The catchers will always have to check the water at random before plunging in for the ‘attack’,” Mustapha said.

Many people claim that the further out to the sea one goes, the more bubuk one can catch. “This claim prompted many catches here to use boats with power engine to go further out to sea,” he said. The traditional shrimp-catching nets are called ‘lengkong’ and ‘ronda tarik’ which are very popular here. ‘Lengkong’ are used to catch shrimps swimming on the water surface while ‘ronda tarik’ are used to trawl shrimps in the water,” explained Mustapha.

The last two weeks saw many fishermen from as far as Kuala Tatau, Serupai until Kuala Nyalau catching ‘bubuk’ from between 500 and 1,000 gantangs. The ‘bubuk’ caught by fishermen can reach an average of between 500 and 800 gantangs which means extra income for the fishermen and their family members, said Mustapha. Mustapha, like other fishermen usually went out to catch ‘bubuk’ from around 2am to 6am before he returned to the wet market to sell the ‘bubuk’ he caught between 10am and 4pm.

Fishing boats loaded with ‘Lengkong’ and ‘paka’ ready to set out to sea.
Sabang selling the ‘bubuk’ he caught.
Bubuk packed in plastic
bags containing two
gantangs each for sale.

His colleague Sabang Jasan, 50, of Sungai Sebemban here said this is the time for them to catch as much ‘bubuk’ as possible for sale to the people who bought them and processed them into ‘belacan’ and ‘cencaluk’.

Sabang said’belacan’ lovers here are thrilled as the ‘bubuk’ season is short and fishermen compete daily among themselves to land good catches. Part-time fishermen, Awang Sanai, 35, of Kampung Jepak said they can earn a few hundreds ringgit on a good day and even a few thousands ringgit per week. Both Mustapha and Sabang agreed that over here not only Malay fishermen but Iban and other races joined in bubuk-catching as there is money to be earned.

The end of the bubuk season is unpredictable. It can be at the end of this month or early April but March is the peak period. Bubuk seller, Jeba Melina of Rumah Suring, Sebemban here said every season is a great opportunity for her and her relatives to work together as a family. “My husband will go out to sea to catch ‘bubuk’ and I will help to sell them,” she said when met at her ‘bubuk’ selling stall. The local authority (BDA) here has allocated a special area near Tamu Bumiputera fronting the Kemena River, where the bubuk catchers and their wives, friends and family members can sell the bubuk. The bubuk are packed in plastic bag of one or two gantangs each.

(1 gantang is approximately 3 kgs). A check at the stalls revealed that one gantang of bubuk costs between RM10 and RM20 – but can drop to RM5 per gantang if there is a bountiful harvest. Other surprise items on sale with the ‘bubuk’ are ready packed coarse salt and red-rice powder ( for colouring). The coarse salt packet (400gm) and red-rice powder (5gm) packet are sold for RM1 each. They are among the ingredients to make ‘belacan’.

Bintulu, other than its oil and gas industry is also famous for its ‘belacan’. Jepak Assemblyman, Datuk Talib Zulpilip once commented that Bintulu ‘belacan’ is special. “It is tasty, hygienically produced and of high quality,” he said.