Subic fishermen buck fishing ban at Panatag lagoon
SUBIC, ZAMBALES—Fishermen from this coastal town are opposing President Duterte’s plan to declare the lagoon in the contested Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) a marine sanctuary, claiming that a ban would deprive them of their traditional fishing ground.
The shoal, a rich fishing ground, became accessible to Filipino fishermen last month after the Chinese Coast Guard allowed them in the area that had been closed to them since 2012.
“We are not in favor of that plan. It (shoal) has been our traditional fishing ground so we don’t understand why suddenly our government wants it to be off limits,” said fisherman Tirso Atiga, 44, president of Calapandayan Fishermen’s Multipurpose Cooperative.
Instead of a ban, Artiga said the government could tap them to help safeguard the shoal from poaching and destructive fishing. He said they were worried that the move could be disadvantageous to Filipino fishermen.
Mr. Duterte said he would issue an executive order declaring the triangle-shaped lagoon inside the Panatag shoal a marine sanctuary, where neither Filipino nor Chinese fishermen would be allowed to fish.
This was relayed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to reporters after Mr. Duterte discussed the
plan with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their talks on Nov. 19 on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru.
“There’s no certainty that China and other countries will recognize the shoal as a marine sanctuary. It’s going to be the loss of Filipino fishermen if we’re not allowed access to the shoal by our own government,” Artiga said.
Edwin Arcelao, president of Samahang Zambaleñong Mangingisda, said Mr. Duterte’s plan would displace about 2,000 fishermen in Zambales province, which is about 240 kilometers from the shoal.
“Aside from the payao (artificial reefs), the shoal is our primary source of fish and other marine resources. Declaring it a marine reserve will force us to look for other fishing grounds,” Arcelao said.
Until last month, the Chinese Coast Guard had cordoned off the shoal, driving away Filipino fishermen in spite of a July 12 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that China had no legal basis for its claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
On Oct. 25, the Chinese patrols did not stop eight groups of Filipino fishermen from fishing in the shoal. Since then, they have been returning to the shoal, freely fishing around it while six Chinese vessels remain stationed from a distance. Two of the ships are guarding the mouth of the shoal.
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