THE Philippines may be enjoying close relations with China, but the country must now advance its own fisheries-management policies in the disputed South China Sea (SCS), a research recommended.
In a study by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, Maria Carmen A. Lagman said the Philippines must reinforce the ruling of the arbitral tribunal on the country’s case against China. Lagman, who is also biology professor at the De La Salle University, said the Philippines must insist on a national and regional fisheries-management agenda in the SCS.
The advocacy, which was aimed at addressing the challenges of food security, environment protection and climate change, would require the Philippines and other countries encircling the SCS to establish transboundary marine parks or areas of joint protection, Lagman wrote in the study, titled “Converging on the Fisheries in the South China Sea”. She added the Philippines and other countries should also bring into discussions other international policy instruments and develop regional-level policies targeted toward small-scale fisheries.
Lagman said these options are becoming more than ever urgent because failure to manage the fisheries in the SCS could lead to exploitation of marine life in the area.
Citing data from another research, Lagman reported fisheries landing in the SCS in 2015 amounted to 10 million tons (MT), which was 12 percent of the total global catch.
LAGMAN said “this data is likely to be underestimated” and it might even increase to 16.6 MT if catch from subsistence, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are included.
Fisheries-trade figures said the SCS contribute 11 MT to 17 MT in traded fisheries catch annually, with a landed value of no less than $12 billion. This translates to over 3 million jobs associated with fishing activities.
“With so much at stake,” Lagman said, “it is no wonder that control of the fisheries [in the SCS] will definitely be a source of economic and political tension.”
However, she argued that other countries with claims over the SCS should also come up with a focused set of policy instruments on small-scale fisheries, which was seen to be the practical alternative to industrial fishing.
A Filipino fisherman wades from boat to shore with part of the crew’s catch. Fishermen who go to the South China Sea report that their catches have gotten smaller in recent years. PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Lagman said small-scale fishers lose income when commercial vessels intrude their fishing areas, as these boats make use of abusive catching tools—trawls, ring nets and purse seines—that virtually harvest all organisms.
The unregulated business of industrial fishing in the SCS led to the collapse in a number of large predatory fish, according to the study. The latter, which include tunas and groupers, are now slowly replaced by smaller fish highly reliant on zooplankton, like the tilapia and crawfish.
LAGMAN said overfished stocks would result to the phenomenon known as “fishing down the food web”, highlighted by a reduction in the quality and size of catch.
Lagman surmised the reduction in catch quality and size were already factored in by countries surrounding the SCS, as they have seen a decrease in demersal and pelagic fish stocks over the past decades.
The maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of the Philippines, Vietnam, east Malaysia and southern China has long been exceeded since the late-1980s, the study said. The MSY is seen as the threshold, and hence, immediate and substantial action must be taken to secure the harvested stock. The study said exhaustion of the MSY is reason enough for countries contending over the SCS to discuss the convergence of the fisheries in the area.
“The fish are a common resource for the countries in the SCS,” Lagman said. “Unless effort is taken to accommodate the transboundary nature of the resources, managing them would not be effective.”
China: A dock worker uses a mallet to dislodge frozen tuna aboard a Chinese cargo vessel docked at the city of General Santos in the Philippines. The cargo vessel spends up to two months at sea with a fleet of a dozen tuna boats working to fill its freezer.PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM DEAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
She noted that fisheries policies in many of the disputing countries were almost, if not fully, spatially-explicit.
Citing the Philippines, the country declared some of its key fishing grounds closed seasons for commercial fishing. These included the East Sulu Sea, Basilan Strait and Sibuguey Bay to sardine fishing, selected areas of the Visayan Sea to sardines, herring and mackerels and the West Philippine Sea to Northern Sulu Sea to round scad fishing.
JUDGING by the oceanographic features of the SCS, Lagman pinpointed the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as the sources of the area’s propagules and, therefore, should be the focus of management strategies.
Lagman also raised concern over the effects of pollution, siltation, destructive fishing and eutrophication resulting from human activities on the coastline, as this would contaminate the mangroves, sea grass meadows and coral reefs in the SCS. Already threatened by coastal activities that deposit sediments, nutrients and effluents, the SCS is further jeopardized by destructive fishing practices that make use of trawls, push nets, dynamite and poison.
In addition, about $5.3 trillion of trade courses through the SCS every year, with the aspiration that no accident will occur, such as the Guimaras oil spill in 2006, when a tanker carrying 2 million liters of bunker fuel sank at the Guimaras Strait, damaging biodiversity-rich areas in the Philippines.
This is why the aggression of China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands is a cause of concern for biologists, as Beijing was seen building seven new islands in the area by moving sediment from the seafloor to the reef.
“Reefs have been destroyed outright to serve as foundations for these new islands, causing long-term extensive damage to the environment,” Lagman added.
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)
‘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 Tian Jing Hao – Cutter suction dredger — Used to destroy South China Sea coral reefs to provide dredge material for new man made- islands — an environmental disaster
The End of an era? Fishermen work to unload a net full of anchovies during a fishing expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Photo AP