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MANILA, Philippines – On the heels of a Chinese ban on fishing at the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) also declared the area closed to fishing activity starting Wednesday.
In a three-page order, Asis Perez, BFAR director, established a “closed season” that would run from May 16 to July 15 at fishing areas around Panatag Shoal, which is the subject of opposing claims by the Philippines and China.
BFAR said the ban is meant to replenish the area’s marine resources, as well as to protect Filipino fishermen from the harsh elements that occasion the habagat.
“The closed season to all municipal and commercial fishing will be temporary, only for the meantime, as the habagat season approach. This will also allow the fish resources to recuperate,” Perez said.
The ban will cover Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, as well as the waters within one nautical mile from its margin, he said.
“Overall, the ban will cover a total area of 90 square nautical miles. Of which, 60 square nautical miles is the area of Panatag Shoal and the remaining covers the one mile distance outside the shoal’s margin,” Perez said.
In line with his order, Perez has directed all concerned personnel, members of the quick response team and elements of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on board BFAR MCS vessels to inform all fishers of the declaration and cause the full compliance to the order.
The BFAR chief also ordered all personnel to enlist the assistance of the PCG, the Philippine National Police and local government units for the implementation of the order.
Perez said the heads of the Fisheries Resources Management Division of BFAR Regions 1 and 3, as well as of the national offices are directed to begin a study that will determine additional measures to rehabilitate and conserve the resources in the covered area.
“We want to take advantage of the two-month interim period to conduct studies on what approach we need in order to conserve and manage. We will focus on the physical and biological characteristics of the area,” he said.
Perez noted that there have been reports of massive degradation in the natural resources, citing the coloration in the waters and destruction of corals in the area.
The official also said the closed season on fishing may be extended after the initial implementation depending on the results of the study.
Perez said the declaration of a temporary fishing ban has no connection with the same action taken by China amid a standoff in the contested waters.
“The President has already stated that we welcome the gesture of the Chinese fishing vessels to no longer fish in the area. This is our own way of making sure that we adopt appropriate measures to ensure sustainability in our territorial waters,” Perez said.
On Wednesday, China effected a summer fishing ban in the West Philippine Sea.
To ensure no displacement of municipal fisherfolk, Perez said nine units of payao have been deployed in the municipal waters of Sta. Cruz, Candelaria, Masinloc, Palauig and Iba in Zambales last week.
The payao is a fish aggregating device that would provide fishermen a specific area to catch fish and only hand-line fishing is allowed.
“That way, the fishermen would spare smaller fishes near the water surface that serve as food for the bigger fishes occupying the bottom areas and thus make the payao more sustainable,” Perez said, adding that BFAR is set to deploy 200 payao.
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