News / Asia

South China Sea Fishermen Caught in Political Net

Daniel Schearf
MASINLOC, ZAMBALES, Philippines - The stand-off between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea is not just about disputed oil-rich territory.  It is also about fish and other aquatic resources that are increasingly scarce. As politicians attempt to resolve the conflict, fishermen from both sides, trying to make a living, are caught in the middle.   

As a storm approaches, Filipino fishermen in Masinloc work together to pull their boats out of the water.
 
About 2,000 families here depend on the sea to make a living, but the spat with China at rich fishing grounds in the Scarborough Shoals has taken a toll on their income.
 
Miguel Bitana says in just a few days at the disputed Shoals he could earn what took him a week or more fishing in local waters.

“There really is a depletion of fish," said Bitana. "It's getting scarcer. That's also one thing that makes us feel bad, that fishing is banned in there but why are the Chinese still fishing there?  Why is it that we Filipinos are not allowed to even go there?”
 
  • A fish market in Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • A fish market in Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Fishermen in Masinloc. (D. Schearf/VOA)
  • Some fishermen go to the rich, but disputed, fishing grounds around the Scarborough Shoals. (D. Schearf/VOA)
(View Photo Gallery)
Meanwhile, declining fish stocks around Hong Kong waters have forced fishermen there to venture further into disputed territories, risking conflict and confrontation.
 
Pang Wah-kan is Chairman of the Joint Committee of Hong Kong Fishermen’s organizations.  

“We started fishing in the South China Sea in the 1960s," said  From then on, several cases are reported that Filipino authorities detained our fishermen and ships and fined them.  Some were detained and even confiscated by Malaysian authorities as well.”
 
The stand-off started in April when a Philippines Navy ship tried to arrest Chinese fishermen for allegedly harvesting endangered species of sharks and coral.
 
Chinese surveillance boats intervened and the two sides have since engaged in a war of words.

Nestor Daet is head of a Masinloc fishermen’s watch group that monitors for illegal fishing.  
 
“I think our government sent about two ships, four? And the other are Philippines coast guard, I think," said Daet. "But, compared to the Naval ships of Chinese we are no match. It's like David and Goliath.”

Fishermen on both sides say their governments need to come to an agreement so they can all make a living.  
 
“We should help each other to protect our seas so that ...we can return the stocks, the fish stocks of the sea,” said Jerry Escape, an officer with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Masinloc.
 
Despite the stand-off, fishermen here say relations with Chinese fishermen have always been so friendly that in the past they would often barter with each other when fishing far from shore.
 
They hope that tradition continues next fishing season at the disputed Scarborough Shoals.

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Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
June 20, 2012 10:14 AM
@hoang, really? The bigger they are the harder they fall? Then how hard USA gonna fall? Yeah keep dreaming!
Now china is sending woman to the space, building aircraft carriers, nuclear Subs, stealth fighters, and economy is growing fast. Seems China would be the last country that falls.


by: Hoang from: Canada
June 19, 2012 7:15 AM
Jonathan Huang,
The bigger they are(China) the harder they fall.


by: Nonoy from: Malacanang
June 18, 2012 10:05 PM
Do not be afraid.


by: @ Peter from: Nguyễn
June 17, 2012 2:53 PM
Your good idea has been presented at some international meeting but greedy Chinese rejected. China wants the whole pie without sharing one small piece to any body in the region.


by: enrique dela cruz from: philippines
June 16, 2012 9:31 AM
A fighter jet had been monitored in the disputed shoal. Does it mean there is an aircraft carrier somewhere near the area?


by: Jonathan Huang from: Canada
June 14, 2012 2:24 PM
By the way, no need to worry about Chinese fishmen, they are happy now. Communist party pay them for fishing in South China sea and they are safe now with the protection of big gun ship from the harasses of Viets and Finos. All Chinese can feel the proud as China becomes powerful.


by: Jonathan Huang from: Canada
June 14, 2012 2:15 PM
I don't see any problems that Communist party try to protect the very Chinese interests.
You may hear more noice recently, just because China is getting stronger, finally in a century, and she can do what she was not capable to do before.


by: Cả Thộn from: Hà Nội
June 14, 2012 10:13 AM
Philippinos must find a way to unite all 10 ASEAN countries into one solid defense bloc against Chinese expansionist policy or China will take over whatever they want.


by: Morgan from: CHina
June 14, 2012 1:13 AM
don't worry about chinese government,they are afraid of any tiny cause of domestic unstability,what the they can do is just keep making denounce


by: Lennie from: New Jersey USA
June 13, 2012 10:42 PM
China is at it again. It is a numbers game, and when a situation gets out of hand, they send in Big Brother observers? Today it is fishing rights, or sharing fishung grounds. Wait to the mainland lands troops and ships in Taiwan; Not that the Thai's really care. Americans should not get involved in that situation, but where is the voice of protest against the Chinese in regard to the fishing incodent?

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