Tropical Fish Gatherer Association president Joeffrey Elad expressed hope that talks between President Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping will benefit fishermen currently experiencing bullying from Chinese ships

Pinoy Fishers To Sail  Back To Panatag Shoal
A 300-meter-long floating barrier is installed by China to prevent Filipino fishermen from entering Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. Inset shows a Philippine fishing boat being shadowed by the Chinese Coast Guard near resource-rich fishing ground on Sept. 22, 2023. Photos by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

Filipino fisherfolk will sail again to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to determine if the supposed meeting between President Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco, California over the weekend will result in an improved situation in the area amid the harassment of Chinese coast guard and militia, according to a fishers’ group.

In an interview over radio dzBB on Sunday, Nov. 19, Tropical Fish Gatherer Association (San Salvador, Masinloc, Zambales) president Joeffrey Elad expressed hope that talks between the two leaders will benefit fishermen currently experiencing bullying from Chinese ships.

“We hope that our plight was really discussed and there will be good changes in what we experience (in Scarborough Shoal). We are scheduled to return (to Bajo de Masinloc today, Nov. 20); we will be able to determine if there are indeed changes in Scarborough Shoal, if indeed, (Marcos and Xi’s) meeting was smooth,” Elad said.

During their meeting, Marcos told Xi that Filipino fishermen should have access to fishing grounds in the South China Sea, where they again reaffirmed commitment to dialogue, but admitted that challenges remain.

Elad said that one of the two fishing boats that returned from Panatag Shoal went home with a few fish caught amid harassment from the Chinese.

“Last Nov. 13, we arrived from Scarborough. The mother boat had caught a lot of fish, but the other boat managed to bring home very limited catch as (fishermen) were tailed by a patrol boat from China. They were not able to fish properly,” he added.

Elad noted that a fishing boat spends at least P150,000 in fuel, ice, food, salaries of captain and crew during the seven-day sail, but suffers losses because of harassment from Chinese boats.

“We spend at least P60,000 for diesel, P20,000 for ice. We also spend for food and pay for salaries of the boat captain and crew, or at least P150,000. The other boat was able to sell only P59,000 worth of fish compared to the expenses which we only sourced through loans,” he said.

According to Elad, Filipino fishermen can earn as much as P500,000 if they are free to fish in Bajo de Masinloc.

“We can earn more if not for the bullying of China. We can fish properly and bring home fish. If we cannot fish properly, we cannot even bring fish for our families,” he added.

Despite the harassment, fisherfolk will continue to go to Scarborough Shoal, according to the fishers’ group leader, as he maintained that Bajo de Masinloc is owned by the Philippines.

“We will not stop fishing (in Scarborough Shoal) as if we will not be harassed; we can recover from our losses as Bajo de Masinloc is really rich in fish,” he said.

He added that the Philippine Coast Guard should provide security to local fishers to ensure that they will not experience harassment from Chinese ships.

“We really hope that we will be accompanied by uniformed personnel to protect us and we will be able to properly fish,” Elad said.

He added that the harassment of Chinese boats started in 2014.

“Since 2014, we have already been experiencing bullying (from Chinese boats), but we are not afraid as we believe that they will not kill us. We will continue to take our chances as we know that Bajo de Masinloc is owned by residents of Masinloc, as we know that Bajo Masinloc is (nearer) the Philippines. We also hope many (countries) will help us,” Elad said.

He also accused Chinese boats of being involved in illegal fishing.

“Chinese boats were involved in illegal activities, like dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing. They also harvest our corals,” he said.

Canada’s Dark Vessel Detection

Canada is set to deploy the Dark Vessel Detection (DVD) system to multiple monitoring facilities in the Philippines starting today as part of a five-year agreement signed last month.

The state-of-the-art remote sensing technologies will support the country’s efforts in combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing within its waters. The DVD system is also used to combat vessels that deliberately turn off their Automatic Identification System.

Signatories to the Arrangement on the DVD System were Ambassador to Canada Maria Andrelita Austria and Canadian Assistant Deputy Minister Adam Burns. – With Pia Lee-Brago