CLARK FREEPORT – The Philippines will lift on July 15 the fishing ban imposed last May at the Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off the coast of Zambales, half a month earlier than the ban imposed by China.
In a telephone interview with Punto, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) national director Asis Perez reiterated that the fishing ban in the shoal had nothing to do with the territorial dispute with China in the area.
China was the first to issue the fishing ban last May, followed by the Philippines.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario was, however, initially against imposing the ban but said Pres. Aquino had decided to also issue such ban purportedly for purposes of conservation of fishery resources and allow time to replenish fish stock.
Records from BFAR showed that such a ban have been imposed by the government in the Western Philippine seas since 1999, normally from May 16 to Aug. 1.
But Perez said BFAR will lift the ban and allow Filipino fishermen to fish at the Scarborough shoal by July 15.
Earlier, China’s Xinhua news agency said that the Chinese ban in northern parts of the South China Sea, including the waters around Scarborough shoal, would last two-and-a-half months, beginning last May 16.
This means that the Chinese ban would be lifted by the end of July, or half a month after the Philippine ban has been removed.
Perez stressed that the ban was merely a conservation measure, as he warned against the occurrence of another fishkill that hit Bolinao, Pangasinan last May wherein about 70 tons of bangus were killed due to the drop of oxygen level in local waters.
He admitted, however, that conservational fish bans in 13 other parts of the country were lifted way back last February and that the Scarborough shoal area is now the only one still with fishing ban in effect.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed that as of yesterday, no vessel of any kind was within the Scarborough shoal lagoon in the Western Philippine Sea.
This, even as Zambales Vice Gov. Ramon Lacbain urged Zambales fisherfolk to steer away from the controversial shoal being claimed by both China and the Philippines.
“I am personally urging our fisherfolk to avoid fishing within the area so as not to ignite the territorial controversy,” Lacbain told Punto, despite BFAR’s insistence that the ban in the area had nothing to do with territorial concerns.
Coast Guard Lt. Commander Armand Balilo said in a telephone interview that the no vessel could be found as of yesterday noon in the Scarborough shoal.
China was reported to have pulled more than 20 fishing boats out of the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal.
Lacbain noted that last year, even before the recent territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over Scarborough erupted, the municipal council members of Masinloc passed a resolution affirming that the shoal, referred to as Bajo de Masinloc, was part of their town.
“I suppose the resolution was passed because the shoal is also near Cabangan and Palauig, although the towns never really had any territorial dispute,” he said.