SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga- Pres. Aquino’s advice to small fishermen to fish at the 13-million hectare BenHam rise in Aurora province is a “big mockery”, the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said yesterday.
“Pres. Aquino is not in touch with reality,” Pamalakaya said in a statement, as it noted that “the BenHam Rise is frequented every year from January to July by foreign large-scale industrial fishing fleets “to fish for tuna.”
The President’s proposal was made amid territorial conflicts in the Western Philippine Sea which have kept off small Filipino fishers.
Pamalakaya vice chair Salvador France lamented that “the government has been tolerating the tuna fishing expeditions of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan over the last five years.”
He noted that Pamalakaya members from Aurora reported that foreign factory ships from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are often seen in the waters off the province.
“Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean industrial fleets are seen catching first rate tuna off the waters of Aurora, which is part of Asia Pacific Ocean,” he said.
France also reported that “the same foreign fishing vessels have even entered the municipal fishing grounds and the Philippine Coast Guard is not doing anything to stop these foreign ocean grabbers exploring the fishery resources of BenHam Rise.”
“And now Pres. Aquino is offering BenHam Rise to small Filipino fisherfolk even if the real score is that foreign fishing monopolies have successfully invaded BenHam Rise long before,” said Pamalakaya.
He noted that a 3,000-ton tuna factory ship seen in the area, accompanied by support fishing fleets, can catch as much as 150 metric tons of tuna on a 24-hour operation. By industry standard, a single factory ship could harvest 50,000 metric tons of tuna per year.
Pamalakaya noted reports that eight Japanese tuna fishing vessels regularly poach in the waters of Aurora province daily from January to July and that this means a total haul of 27,000 tons of tuna per factory ship during the period or 216,000 metric tons of tuna for all eight fishing vessels.
According to Pamalakaya’s computation, the owners of the eight fishing vessels could earn as much as $1.274 billion or $160 million per fishing vessel in just six months from tuna poaching in Aurora and other tuna-rich waters of the Philippine territory.
The controversial Benham Rise is an undersea region that has untapped potentially rich mineral and gas deposits. It is located off the coast of Aurora province, opposite the disputed waters of South China Sea.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) announced yesterday that more than 60 fish-aggregating devices will be installed at Benham Rise starting May 30.
Pamalakaya also said the plan of the government to impose fish ban in 10 out of 13 major fishing grounds all over the archipelago to push the national stock assessment program further complicates the sorry state of small fishermen across the country.
BFAR earlier bared these 13 fishing grounds namely Lingayen Gulf, northern Zambales, Visayan Sea, Camotes Sea, Honda Bay, Babuyan Channel, Lagonoy Gulf, Sorsogon Bay, Hinatuan and Dinagat Bay and Davao Gulf.
Pamalakaya earlier dared Aquino to file appropriate charges against China at the United Nations (UN) over Beijing’s refusal to leave Ayungin Reef and Panatag Shoal, which are part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday asked China to withdraw its ships from Ayungin Reef because that area of South China Sea is within the country’s national territory, which is 196 kilometers from Palawan province and well within the 370-kilometer EEZ.
The Aquino government on May 10 protested the presence of 30 Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by patrol vessels, at Ayungin, but China insisted that it had “indisputable sovereignty” over Ayungin and other parts of the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea.