THE INCOME of Filipino fishermen operating in coastal areas near the West Philippine Sea have dropped by around 70% per trip since last year due to Chinese presence in the Scarborough Shoal, a militant fishers’ group said on Thursday.
Bobby Roldan, vice chair for Luzon of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), said in a statement on Thursday that the average income of a small fisherman has fallen to P300 from P1,000 per fishing trip.
Mr. Roldan said these fishermen are no longer able to go near Scarborough Shoal for fear of being harassed or aggressively driven away by Chinese vessels patroling the area.
“Kaya nagsisiksikan kami sa loob ng 15-kilometer municipal waters hanggang sa pinakamalayong 60 kilometro mula sa baybayin kung saan mas kakaunti ang nahuhuling isda (This is why we are only operating within the 15-kilometer municipal waters up to 60-kilometers from the coast, where we catch fewer fishes),” he said.
Further, they have to compete with bigger commercial fishing vessels that also operate near the coast.
“We are faced with huge Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal and are also hindered by big commercial fishing vessels to municipal waters when we are pushed back. The government should just encourage and fund big fishing operators to venture to West Philippine Sea instead in order to utilize the marine resources of the area.”
Mr. Roldan said their reduced income now only covers their operating costs such as fuel and ice.
“Our income is only enough for us to be able to refill our gasoline and ice used in production every time we venture out. At worst, the income we earn is not enough. Due to this, the local fishermen will be buried in debt,” he said.
Fernando L. Hicap, PAMALAKAYA national chairperson, noted that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic did not hinder China in its expansion activities in the South China Sea.
“China’s aggressive usurpation of South China Sea accompanied with large-scale fishing expeditions does not only result to destruction of marine resources, but also exhaust fish stocks in the seas, leaving less for our fishers,” Mr. Hicap said.
The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), recently filed a diplomatic protest against China’s annual fishing ban in the South China Sea from May 1 to Aug. 16.
DFA said the fishing ban goes beyond China’s marine entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and is baseless under international law.
BusinessWorld sought the Department of Agriculture for comment on PAMALAKAYA’s statement but has not responded as of deadline time. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave