Fewer cockles to warm the hearts of local fans
FOR the past 30 years, hawker Tan Ah Bu, 70, has been frying his signature char kway teow, sprinkled with a handful of see-hum (blood cockles).
For a dollar more, he would add another eight pieces.
But that handful has shrunk recently.
All because of a shortage of blood cockles coming from Malaysia in the last two years.
Importers are seeing the numbers falling steadily as Malaysian fishermen no longer enjoy bountiful harvests.
Experts said pollution has led to the scarcity, but some blame it on the changing weather.
See-hum, which used to be commonly found in silty sand in the north of Singapore, now mostly come from Malaysia.
Almost all of Singapore's fresh cockles, which include other types as well, come from Malaysia.
Giving the overall import figures for fresh cockles as it does not have specific figures for blood cockles, the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority said the numbers have been falling.
Last year, 2,720 tonnes of fresh cockles were brought into Singapore from Malaysia, about a 10 per cent fall from the 3,010 tonnes in 2012.
In the first seven months of this year, only 1,490 tonnes were imported.
Five char kway teow hawkers here told The New Paper that they won't raise the prices of their dish, but will cut down on the cockles.
Speaking to The Star newspaper, Malaysian biologist Ahmad Ismail explained that coastal wildlife, such as migratory shore birds and small marine invertebrates, are sensitive to changes in their habitat.
The expert in eco-toxicology believed the pollution comes from rivers since currents flow directly into the cockle beds, which are usually found on intertidal flats.
Importer CMM Marketing Management, which supplies to its sister company Sheng Siong Supermarket, has seen its supply of live cockles fall by about half in recent years.
While the annual catch in Malaysia used to exceed 75,000 tonnes, recent Malaysian media reports indicate that see-hum harvests are no longer plentiful.
The owner of another importer, Lim Teng Company, who gave his name only as Mr Lim, attributed the shortage to the change in weather.
He said: "The weather keeps changing from hot to cold and from cold back to hot. That's why all the cockles are dying."
Hawker Tan, who continues to ply his trade at Clementi market, lamented: "Customers are going to complain, but what to do? I still have to make a living."
THE NEW PAPER