MANILA (Mabuhay) — As China asserts its presence in the West Philippine Sea, Filipino fishermen are actively avoiding Scarborough Shoal in the waters just off Zambales province.
Amid the tension in the western sea board, the Philippines has announced the opening of a new fishing ground in the east — the Benham Rise.
Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare undersea region that has untapped potentially rich mineral and gas deposits, is located off the coast of Aurora province, opposite the disputed waters of South China Sea.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Asis Perez said more than 60 fish-aggregating devices will be installed at Benham Rise starting May 30.
According to BFAR, the area is rich in marine resources.
“Maraming tuna, merong blue fin tuna, pinakamahal na isda. May galunggong, lapu-lapu, isdang bato,” Perez said.
The government is confident the new fishing ground will not be a subject of a territorial dispute in the future.
“Sinisiguro ko po sa inyo, wala ng aagaw,” Perez said.
But fisherfolk group Pamalakaya said while opening of Benham Rise is a welcome development for fishermen, they have information that a fishing ban will be implemented in 10 fishing grounds.
BFAR said Pamalakaya’s information is untrue, as there is no fishing ban at all in the whole country.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Benham Rise, also known as Benham Plateau, is part of Philippine territory.
It is the Philippines’ first successful validation of a claim in accord with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier said the area is off-limits to Chinese and Taiwanese fishermen.
“There are no Chinese poachers in Benham Rise. Also there are no reports of Taiwanese fishing activities there,” he said.
“We are the only country that was allowed to fish blue fin tuna. There’s a regional Pacific management body in charge of fishing in the Pacific waters,” he added. (MNS)