South China Sea fisheries collapse to hurt entire Southeast Asia — expert

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
South China Sea fisheries collapse to hurt entire Southeast Asia � expert
This video screengrab from a documentary released by the camp of senatorial bet Neri Colmenares show Filipino fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales who had experienced harassment by Chinese Coast Guard personnel at Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Neri Colmenares / Facebook screengrab

MANILA, Philippines — The collapse of fish stocks in the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, would not only affect the Philippines but the entire region.

Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, warned that the South China Sea dispute may affect marine biology in the region.

"If fish stocks collapse there, it's not just going to hit fisherfolk in Palawan and Luzon. It's gonna hit fisherfolk throughout the Philippine archipelago and everywhere in Southeast Asia," Poling told ANC's "Headstart" Friday.

Poling noted that the disputed South China Sea is the most productive marine environment in the world as 12% of all fish caught globally come from there.

The contested waterway is under threat from overfishing, dredging, island-building and destructive clam harvesting, particularly from the Chinese.

The maritime dispute resulted in claimant countries encouraging their fishermen to fish in the South China Sea.

"The Chinese heavily subsidized fishers to go out to the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Vietnam does the same and even if parties wanted to do something about it, it's impossible to enforce fishery rules out there," Poling said.

Citing the previous statement of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Poling added that it would be hard to deny Chinese and Vietnamese fisherfolk access to the West Philippine Sea even if the Philippine government implements a fishing ban.

Last month, Esperon admitted that it would be very hard to protect the West Philippine Sea as the country lacks surveillance in the area.

The July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea arbitration against China only helped Filipino fishers at Scarborough or Panatag Shoal.

The UN-backed tribunal ruled that the Scarborough Shoal, located off the coast of Zambales, was a traditional fishing ground for fishers from the Philippines, China and other countries.

"It helped Filipino fishers at Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc. That's about it. The only place we've seen a change... the Chinese felt that if they allowed small-scale fishing still under the eye of the China coast guard they're trying to control the shoal, that olive branch would help them save some face and make the issue go away," Poling said.

Beijing's militarization of its artificial islands in the South China Sea had damaged the marine environment in the region.

According to the AMTI director, fish stocks in the area had depleted to between 70% and 95%, depending on the species.

"Any fisher in the region will tell you how much smaller the catches have become, China comes in to that situation and buries 3,200 acres of reef plus digs up another 12,000 (acres) or so to make that sand so 15,000 acres of the nurseries of fish and marine life intentionally destroyed in three years," Poling said in the television interview.

In April, ABS-CBN News released a report showing China's destructive harvesting of giant clams at the Scarborough Shoal.

In response to the now-deleted tweets of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Poling tweeted that Chinese clam poachers earn thousands of dollars while threatening food security in the coastal area.

“The Chinese poachers aren't eating them either. They can get thousands of dollars for each shell for jewelry & figurines. They toss the meat into the sea,” Poling tweeted April 19.

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