Philippine fisheries

Limited access to Scarborough deprives fisherfolk of resources – expert

Jairo Bolledo

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Limited access to Scarborough deprives fisherfolk of resources – expert

FISHERFOLKS' RIGHTS. In this file photo, fisherfolk and environment advocates stage a picket at the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City on June 8, 2021, World Ocean's Day.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

Some fisherfolk decided to leave fishing because of the threats in Scarborough Shoal, says Hazel Arceo, a marine biology expert from UP Cebu

Due to threats in Scarborough Shoal, fisherfolk in the area are being deprived of access to sea resources, according to a marine expert. 

Scarborough Shoal is a resources-rich sea feature located near Masinloc, Zambales, in the West Philippine Sea. Chinese ships have been spotted in the shoal in recent years, keeping fisherfolk from harvesting fish in the area.

Marine biology expert Hazel Arceo of the University of the Philippines Cebu said that the dynamics of fishing in the area have changed between 1995 and 2010 up to the present. 

“In that area (Scarborough Shoal), we saw how access restrictions have also changed the fisheries dynamics in that area,” Arceo said during a national symposium of the Philippine Association of Marine Science on July 23. 

According to Arceo, due to unwanted threats and hostility in the seascape, fisherfolk in the area have decided to change their fishing location. 

“Fishers fishing in the shoal in the past reported fishing near or just over the shoal. So fishing effort was concentrated over the shoal,” Arceo said. “But, present fishers have reported they are now actually fishing farther away or just beyond the shoal, and this is because they are being driven away or there are some hostile forces there.”

Her findings were based on interviews with fisherfolk in Masinloc town in Zambales, who said they used to fish in the shoal.

Affecting fisherfolk’s lives

Arceo explained that between 1995 to 2010, Masinloc fisherfolk used spearguns to catch high value reef fishes that were abundant in the shoal.

Now that they are unable to go near the shoal, they have switched to gillnets or regular fishing nets, and are reporting catching lower value species.

The most extreme effect of the threat in the shoal, according to Arceo, is the termination of fishing activities.

Long tale of Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest coast of Luzon. The seascape falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. (READ: Scarborough Shoal according to Manila, Beijing)

Based on the principle of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, all features and seascapes located within the country’s EEZ rightfully belong to that country. 

However, China has been claiming the area and saying it has the jurisdiction over the feature. In 2012, the Philippines and China had a standoff in Scarborough Shoal that lasted for weeks due to accusations of territorial incursions. 

The Philippines brought the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 2016, the Hague ruling was released, favoring the Philippines for its claims on the features located within its EEZ. 

But even with the Philippines’ victory, China continues to insist that it has rights on the features and regularly sends Chinese vessels into Philippine waters.

As of April 2021, around 10 Chinese maritime militia vessels were spotted in Scarborough Shoal, prompting Manila’s foreign affairs department to file a diplomatic protest against China. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.