The Philippines has already lost at least P3.5 billion worth of marine catch to the more than 200 Chinese militia-like fishing vessels occupying the West Philippine Sea, according to Asis Perez, a former director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and currently a convener of the agricultural and food safety advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan.
Perez estimates the Chinese vessels to have caught at least 54,984 metric tons of fish since the Philippine Coast Guard first reported their sighting in March. The haul translates to losses valued at P3.49 billion.
The national task force for the West Philippine Sea had earlier downplayed the catch of the 237 Chinese vessels, saying they were harvesting a ton of fish every day. For the ships, estimated to be 60 meters long with a likely capacity of 700 gross tons, to be viable, Perez believes they must catch at least 4-5 MT a day to break even or at least recoup their operational costs.
According to the BFAR, the Philippines gets about 7 percent of its annual fisheries production from the West Philippine Sea. The shallow waters near the Spratly Islands are considered one of the most productive as the area allows sunlight to pass through and absorb a lot of nutrients, creating a very diverse marine ecosystem.
A study of the late National Scientist Edgardo Gomez, a marine biologist who was among those who sounded the alarm for the environmental impact of China’s reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea, valued the reef ecosystems in the area at $350,000 per hectare. About 1,214 hectares of coral reefs have already been damaged by the destructive Chinese activities, bringing annual losses to P20.4 billion on top of the P3.5 billion worth of fish illegally caught by the Chinese.
The continued presence of Chinese militia vessels and coastguard has forced more than 1,500 fishermen in Masinloc, Zambales to desert Panatag Shoal which has for decades served as their traditional fishing grounds.
The financial value of whatever donations the Chinese government has thrown our way every now and then pale in comparison to the losses our country has been sustaining because of their aggressive and overwhelming presence in our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
When will our government do more to protect the interests of our country?*