Fish catch down 70 percent; destruction of corals blamed

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
Fish catch down 70 percent; destruction of corals blamed
Screengrab from a Philippine Coast Guard underwater survey video shows the damaged coral bed in Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, which appears to have minimal to no signs of life.

MANILA, Philippines — Fish catch in the West Philippine Sea has gone down by 70 percent since 2020, and further decline is expected amid reports of massive poaching of corals by the Chinese, a militant fishers’ group warned yesterday.

Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) national chairman Fernando Hicap raised the warning in a radio interview, in the wake of reports of plunder of corals in Rozul Reef, believed perpetrated by the Chinese. Corals are breeding grounds for marine life.

Reports from fisherfolk – particularly from Zambales – have indicated 70 percent decline in fish catch “amid the illegal activities of Chinese fishing vessels,” Hicap said.

He noted that the drop began after the standoff in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012 when Chinese vessels stopped Philippine Navy personnel from apprehending a Chinese fishing boat carrying an illegal cargo of endangered corals, baby sharks and giant clams. The Chinese have never left since then.

“Since after the standoff in 2011 (sic), Chinese fishing vessels have not left the area. The decline in the fish catch started as the Filipino fishers were no longer free to fish in the West Philippine Sea,” Hicap added.

“They cannot enter the West Philippine Sea. They were forced to leave the area,” he said.

Hicap said the untrammeled harvesting of corals by the Chinese would further reduce fish production and exacerbate the situation for Filipino fisherfolk.

“If there are no corals, there will be no source of food for the fish. This will result in a shortage in the supply of fish in the country as a whole,” he warned.

Hicap called on President Marcos to order concerned agencies to determine the extent of the damage to coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea as well as demand due compensation from China.

“We need to determine the extent of the damage so that we will be able to rehabilitate the affected areas and demand China to pay for the damage of the coral reefs,” he said.

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command, revealed on Saturday the plunder of corals in Rozul Reef that he said may have been perpetrated by the Chinese.

The poaching of corals in Rozul Reef left a wide swath of the sea floor strewn with debris, Carlos said at a briefing.

He said the Chinese may have started harvesting the corals in July when their boats swarmed the land feature.


West Philippine Sea-Philippine Coast Guard (WPS-PCG) spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said they would be conducting another underwater survey within the week to further assess the conditions of corals in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, with the help of marine scientists from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute.

“We would do another underwater survey this week with our vessels and probably reach out to the UP-MSI to help in figuring out what is the main reason why these corals were dumped in a particular area. We would also investigate why all of a sudden there is no more life form in the seabed of these two shoals,” Tarriela said.

He added that the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea has yet to decide if they would also seek help from marine scientists from other countries.

“As far as the PCG is concerned, based on the video that we released, there is deliberate dumping of crushed and processed corals. Until now it is puzzling what is the motivation of whoever dumped those crushed corals,” Tarriela added.

The PCG has yet to identify the culprit behind the destruction of the corals, but stressed that circumstantial evidence points to the Chinese.

“The continued swarming for indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the WPS features,” the PCG said.

From Aug. 9 to Sept. 11, the PCG monitored an average of 33 CMM vessels in the vicinity of Rozul Reef and 15 CMM vessels in Escoda Reef.

The BRP Sindangan and BRP Cabra were patrolling the area.

During the period, the PCG conducted underwater surveys of the seabed in the two areas.

“The results of these surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the subject WPS features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life. Moreover, the surveys conducted in Escoda Shoal revealed visible discoloration of its seabed, strongly indicating that deliberate activities may have been undertaken to modify the natural topography of its underwater terrain,” he said.

“The presence of crushed corals strongly suggests a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed,” the Coast Guard official added.

New reclamation?

On concerns raised by Sen. Francis Tolentino that the harvesting of the corals could be a prelude to reclamation, Tarriela said “that is something that we still do not know. That is the reason why we want to reach out to marine scientists to at least understand the motivation for the dumping.”

Tolentino chairs the Senate special committee on maritime and admiralty zones.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri described China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea as “annoying.”

“You know it takes about 100 years to be able to have a very healthy ecosystem and coral reef and that is the fishing,” Zubiri added. “That’s the breeding ground for more of the seagoing fish so all the oceanic fish are born there and come out and become big tuna and big fish.

“This is a wanton destruction of our future food security areas and why do they need to destroy it? Why do they need to take these coral reefs? Is it because they use it for decorative value in China or make it into jewelry because the red corals, those that are very rare and protected,” he pointed out.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada also condemned the degradation of the reefs. “We strongly condemn the destructive activities at Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal. Reports of deliberate man-made alteration to the natural topography of its underwater terrain, allegedly carried out by the Chinese maritime militia in these areas, are a matter of grave concern.

“We call upon the responsible authorities to also raise awareness and consciousness on maritime and archipelagic issues and concerns and uphold our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Japan expresses alarm

Japan’s top diplomat has branded as “alarming” reports of China’s plunder of corals in Rozul Reef near Palawan.

“Very alarming news. Our oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, & coral reefs are its colorful heartbeats. Let’s preserve & protect these vital ecosystems for generations to come,” Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa said in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

But in its own post on X, the Chinese embassy dismissed the report as disinformation and raised anew Japan’s release of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“People should be alarmed by the spreading of such disinformation. Oceans are indeed the lifeblood of our planet. So stop the release of contaminated nuclear water from Fukushima,” the Chinese embassy said.

Koshikawa earlier said it was “unforgivable” to take advantage of harmful rumors and malicious fake news about the discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

He said Japan is striving to recover from the Fukushima disaster while maintaining a high level of transparency based on scientific evidence. — Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Pia Lee-Brago

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