Vietnamese poachers arrested in Palawan

PALAWAN, Philippines – Philippine authorities arrested 8 Vietnamese poachers off Mangsee Island in Balabac town for catching and possessing sharks on Thursday, September 26.

The Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) BRP Sindagan towed the foreigners’ fishing vessel that arrived at Puerto Princesa City port on Friday morning, September 27, Palawan News reported. 

Coast Guard District Palawan spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Christian Jazmin said during the chase, the poachers were seen throwing some of their catch into the sea to trick the authorities they only had a few in possession.

“During the hot pursuit, the Vietnamese were seen throwing their freshly caught fish and sharks off the boat. Some were hauling the fishing nets,” Jazmin was quoted as saying. 

Jovic Fabello, spokesperson of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a Department of Environment and Natural Resources-attaches agency, said authorities will convene to discuss the case filing against the poachers. 

“The Provincial Committee on Illegal Entrants (PCIE) will handle the case filing. The PCIE upon convening shall determine the case and violations related thereto,” Fabello told Rappler in a text message.

On board the Vietnamese fishing vessel, the PCG initially found dead sharks, as well as dried skin and bones. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources staff are currently identifying the shark species.

Generally, sharks are protected under several local policies and national laws and international treaties, specifically the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

This apex predator is illegally traded for their meat and fins that contain ceratotrichia or “fin needles,” key ingredients in shark’s fin soup, an Asian delicacy commonly served in Vietnam, Hongkong, and China. 

The Philippines is home to approximately 200 out of the world’s nearly 500 shark species, but their protection remains a challenge. “Our biodiversity and weak enforcement measures make us attractive to poachers,” Save Sharks Network of the Philippines’ (SSNP) Anna Oposa told Rappler. 

“Our seas are already under immense pressure and threat. We need to work much harder to protect them from poachers,” Oposa added. 

In Palawan, elasmobranch or cartilaginous fishes like sharks are in the PCSD list of threatened marine wildlife. The environmental body is mandated to implement the Republic Act No. 9147 or the Philippine Wildlife Act.

Oposa, meanwhile, lauded the PCG’s effort that led to the successful arrest of the Vietnamese poachers. She urged the national government to penalize the violators to tell the world that the Philippines was not taking the criminal act sitting down. 

 “This is not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last. Our PCG needs more support, and we need to ensure that cases like this are followed through with our justice system,” she said.

In May 2018, 20 Vietnamese fishers were also caught for poaching off Mangsee Island. They were slapped with poaching and illegal entry charges, in violation of the Philippines’ Wildlife Act and Fisheries Code. – Rappler.com