ASEAN’s leaders will gather in Manila next week for the 30th ASEAN Summit. While the leaders and diplomats forge stronger bonds of friendship, those of us watching can only hope that the summit and other scheduled meetings will help to move the region concretely forward.
At the top of everyone’s mind is the South China Sea: What does the Philippines want to achieve with ASEAN and with the dialogue partners this year? What’s slated for the framework for the code of conduct? Will this framework even proceed to a binding and enforceable code? How will we achieve our aims in line with our commitments in upholding international law?
The Philippines is no stranger to the difficulties in the South China Sea, and has even been at the forefront of these challenges. More pressingly, the challenge has evolved: Chinese vessels loiter in Benham Rise, construction on Scarborough Shoal is a looming possibility and reports are emerging that Chinese Coast Guard vessels fired shots at Filipino fishermen in the Spratlys. How long can Southeast Asian governments paper over these difficulties in the name of friendly ties?
Fishermen sort the catch in the South China Sea
At this stage, there are more questions than there are answers. For this reason, the Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi) will host a forum on April 25 entitled “The South China Sea: the Philippines, ASEAN and their international partners.” In our view, the Philippines should not lose sight of its a unique opportunity to shine a spotlight on Southeast Asia’s pressing political and security challenges.
Converging on the fisheries
One of the under-examined issues concerning the West Philippine Sea is fisheries management. Fish and fisheries remain crucial to food security, livelihoods and export revenue to over about 2 billion inhabitants of the region. However, the overlapping territorial and maritime sovereignty claims among the coastal states continue hinder efforts to establish sustainable mechanisms for fisheries management, as well as curb illegal and unsustainable fishing practices.
As the Philippines assumes chairmanship of ASEAN 2017, one of the goals is to translate its legal victory from the arbitral tribunal into workable policies that address the impending fisheries crisis not only on the national but also on the regional level. For an ADRi special study entitled “Converging on the Fisheries in the South China Sea,” Dr. Carmen Lagman of DLSU has analyzed the fisheries production-consumption patterns and transboundary management mechanisms, and proposed a path forward for the ASEAN coastal states to enhance fisheries management in the name of food security.
The value of the South China Sea to food and job security
Lagman explains the vitality of the South China Sea as a source of food and livelihoods. In 2015, a conservative estimate based on reported fisheries landings in the sea is about 12 percent of the total global catch. With the exception of Brunei Darussalam, all the other countries in the South China Sea are in the top 20 countries with the highest recorded fisheries catch in 2014.
The sea could potentially yield 11 to 17 million tons in trade fisheries catch and US$ 12 to 22 billion in annual fisheries landed value. This translates to over 3 million jobs associated with the fisheries. In fact, based on these values of the landed fisheries in 2012, total economic activity in the broader economy supported by fishing is estimated at US$ 66.7 billion.
Unsustainability of local fishing practices
However, the indispensable value of the sea is imperiled by unsustainable practices of small and large-scale industrial fisheries sector. Usually, commercial boats encroach into the so-called traditional fishing areas of small-scale fishermen, using trawls, ring nets and purse seins, which practically harvest all organisms within the site of operations. As a result, small-scale fishermen usually complain of losing income while environmentalists point out to the irreversible damage that such commercial fishing tools and methods bring to the environment.
Moreover, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions for defining an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have tremendously influenced the structure of fisheries policies in national and international arenas. It had the profound effects of: raising the contribution of fisheries to the national gross domestic product or GDP; bringing about a redistribution of benefits from fishing from distant water fishing fleets to the coastal states; and attracting greater investments into the fisheries sector.
Though total fisheries catch appears to be steadily increasing, there have already been differences in the quality of fish. Large predatory fish such as tuna and grouper are found less. They are increasingly being replaced by smaller fish that feed on zooplankton. This phenomenon dubbed as “fishing down the food web” reflects a dangerous, continuing trend of overfishing. Notably, pelagic fish stocks in East Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and southern China have been subject to overfishing since the late 1980s. No wonder their fishermen venture into the West Philippine Sea where productivity has not dwindled.
A way forward for the Philippines and Southeast Asia
Having won the case in the arbitral tribunal, the Philippines may seize the opportunity to promote the country’s fisheries management policy, and synergize its conservation efforts with those of its neighbors. Lagman proposes the following: the establishment of transboundary marine parks or areas of joint protection which seeks to declare the remaining healthy, resource-rich areas and habitats as “no-take zones” such as the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal; inclusion of other international policy instruments, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Reykjavik Declaration (2001), FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995), and World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002); and Agenda 21 (1992) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), aimed at encouraging regional cooperation on fisheries management in the South China Sea in our diplomatic efforts; and development of regional-level policies targeted toward small-scale fisheries.
Fisheries and other marine areas could be a starting point for greater technical cooperation between the Philippines and its neighbors. In these times, all cooperative options should be studied and exhausted. In the process, we must take advantage of our scientific knowhow to look at the dispute management (even if not resolution) in a creative and fresh light.
We are looking for concrete ways to use our knowledge of the law and the environment to help bridge the political problems that keep the Philippines from fully and sustainably exploiting its resources. These options will be for naught, however, if the Philippines does not demonstrate its principled commitment to the rule of law and show its leadership in ASEAN this year.
Dindo Manhit is the president of think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, a partner of Philstar.com.
Japan to exceed bluefin tuna quota amid warnings of commercial extinction
Conservation groups have called on Japan to abide by international agreements to curb catches of Pacific bluefin tuna after reports said the country was poised to exceed an annual quota two months early – adding to pressure on stocks that have already reached dangerously low levels.
Japan, by far the world’s biggest consumer of Pacific bluefin, has caused “great frustration” with its failure to abide by catch quotas intended to save the species from commercial extinction, said Amanda Nickson, the director of global tuna conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Just a few years of overfishing will leave Pacific bluefin tuna vulnerable to devastating population reductions,” Nickson said in Tokyo on Monday. “That will threaten not just the fish but also the fishermen who depend on them.”
Decades of overfishing have left the Pacific bluefin population at just 2.6% of its historical high, and campaigners say Japan must take the lead at a summit in South Korea this summer.
In 2015, Japan and other members of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission agreed to curtail catches of immature bluefin, halving the catch of fish under 30kg from the average caught between 2002 and 2004.
But Japanese media reported last week that the country would reach its catch limit for younger tuna for the year through to June two months early.
Some fisheries workers have ignored the restrictions, aware that they will not be punished and can fetch premium prices for Pacific bluefin in Japan, where it is regarded as an important part of the country’s culinary heritage.
Campaigners support the fisheries commission’s aim of rebuilding stocks to at least 20% of unfished levels by 2034 – a target Nickson said was “realistic and attainable”. She said further inaction could revive calls for a two-year commercial moratorium on catching Pacific bluefin.
“No country in the world cares more about the future of tuna than Japan,” she said. “Japan can take the lead, but it must start by committing itself to the 20% rebuilding plan.”
If that fails, she added, “then a full commercial moratorium could be the only feasible course of action”.
Aiko Yamauchi, the leader of the oceans and seafood group for WWF Japan, said it was time to penalise fishermen who violated catch quotas. “The quotas should be mandatory, not voluntary,” Yamauchi said. “That’s why the current agreement hasn’t worked.”
About 80% of the global bluefin catch is consumed in Japan, where it is served raw as sashimi and sushi. A piece of otoro – a fatty cut from the fish’s underbelly – can cost several thousand yen at high-end restaurants in Tokyo.
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South China Sea: Philippines Needs To Take Control of Its Own Fishing, Biology Professor says– “Who Cares More About Our Food, Fish and Environment?”
Philippines- China South China Row — Talk of establishing a ‘no-take zone’ — Apparently to Counter China’s ‘Talk and Take’ Strategy — What happened to international law?
Amid South China Sea dispute, Chinese President Xi says be combat-ready
Warning over coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef
Philippine City Bordering Disputed Sea Finding Fewer Fish, More Foreign Vessels
South China Sea: Philippines has lost traditional fishing ground as Vietnamese move in with Chinese, Philippines envoy to China says — Everyone shares the common fishing ground — But fewer fish each year (Philippine Star)
Military base-building destroys coral reefs in the South China Sea
Duterte, China and the South China Sea — Bald-faced sellout of our country
Anger burns on Vietnam’s poisoned coast a year after spill — “The big fish are all dead” — Vietnam’s worst environmental disaster
Chinese moving to dominate the South China Sea — An emerging environmental disaster has gone largely unnoticed
China, Duterte and the crisis in the Philippine-US alliance
‘Devastating’ coral loss in South China Sea – scientists — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles
South China Sea: One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse (National Geographic on the South China Sea)
China’s Plan For Asia and Onward To Iran — Involves Domination on Land and Sea — “Without firing a shot. That’s Sun Tzu.”
South China Sea controversy heats up as man-made islands are almost complete
China says ‘no such thing’ as man-made islands in South China Sea
South China Sea: Chinese Building Military Facilities On Philippine Soil
China’s South China Sea Moves Based Upon Disregard for International Law and Institutions, Return To Glory of Empires Past and Gone
China Rams and Sinks Vietnamese Fishing Boat After Long History Of Chinese At Sea Harassment
Vietnamese fishing boat sinks after collision with Chinese vessel