PH losing huge fish catch to WPS encroachment, ex-BFAR head says

The Philippine government’s failure to address the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is resulting in billions worth of losses in terms of fish catch and revenues.

Asis Perez, former director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said the country is foregoing billions of revenues by allowing the growing number of Chinese vessels to occupy WPS, which covers the Kalayaan Group of Islands in Spratlys and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).

Asis Perez, convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan

Based on the computation of food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan, the country is losing 3.6 million kilograms (kg) or 3,600 metric tons (MT) over the span of 15 days due to IUU in WPS. 

This is based on the estimate of the National Task Force on WPS which revealed that some 240,000 kg of fish is being seized each day by Chinese fishing vessels stationed in the area.

Using the same figures, the group reckoned the country will lose 7.2 million kilograms of fish for each month that Chinese fishing vessels are allowed to stay in the area. 

Perez, who now serves as the convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan, said “if we look at even half the market price of this commodity today, then we are bound to lose P720 million a month”.

At the moment, even the conservative government estimate of 7 percent volume of catch coming from the West Philippine Sea amounts to P19.1 billion, he added.

If managed well and limited to the exclusive use of Filipinos, the group said fisheries resources in the WPS can contribute heavily to the economy.

West Philippine Sea (PNA file photo)

Meanwhile, the advocacy group also raised concerns on the destruction of marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, particularly coral reef ecosystems in the Spratlys due to reclamation and dredging activities.  

Studies have shown that the area’s coral reef ecosystem plays an important role as spawning and nursery grounds, egg and larval dispersal of economically important species not only for the West Philippine Sea area but the entire South China Sea and even the Pacific Ocean.

Based on a 2015 report written by the University of British Columbia Fisheries Economic Research Unit, around 12 percent of the global fish catch comes from South China Sea.

The number is significant as the total marine fish catch in 2018 is estimated at 84 million metric tons, showing how productive the area is as the South China Sea is just 2.5 percent of the world ocean and contributes 12 percent or 10.08 million MT of the total marine fish capture production of the world

The destruction of the area, hence, will affect not only the Philippines but most members of the ASEAN community, including Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

It was recalled that sometime in 2015, the late National Scientist Dr. Edgardo Gomez was among the first who issued warnings against massive and irreversible damage by China’s reclamation activities in several coral reef ecosystems. 

At the time, the activity involved an area of only 311 hectares.  Gomez said Spratlys’ coral reef ecosystem has a direct and indirect contribution to human well-being equivalent to US$350,000 per hectare per year, and about US$108.9 million of annual economic losses to countries around the South China Sea in 2015.

A more recent study indicated that the area affected by illegal fishing, dredging and reclamation activities is now 1,214 hectares.

Using Gomez’s formula, the total impact of the coral reef destruction is now worth about US$425-million, or P20.4 billion each year.

“Clearly, the illegal Chinese activities in the area are detrimental not only for Filipino fishermen. Their actions affect the food security of the entire South China Sea Region. It is just and proper for all citizens to voice out their concern about the current situation,” Perez said.  

Last week, several petitions urging the United Nations (UN) to act on the continuous Chinese usurpation in WPS were officially filed by the progressive fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA).

The petitions called on the UN to declare the controversial China Coast Guard Law null and void, calling for demilitarization of the South China Sea, and for the UN to look into the impact of Chinese incursion to the livelihood of Filipino fishers and the domestic food security.

“With the increasing aggression and militarization of China in the West Philippine Sea through the passing of the Coast Guard Law, we humbly appeal for your intervention by openly denouncing and declaring the law null and void,” according to a petition addressed to UN Secretary General António Guterres.

PAMALAKAYA slammed China for its disregard of the international tribunal that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claim over almost the entire South China Sea, which includes 80 percent of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf.

The other week, BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona said his agency is “strongly committed” to fulfilling its mandate in WPS and other coastal communities in the Philippines.

Right now, there are 600,000 Filipino fisherfolk who get their livelihood directly from WPS, based on the estimates of AGHAM member and PAMALAKAYA resident fisheries expert Jerwin Baure.