CITY OF SAN FERNANDO— The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has given more assistance to fisherfolk in Zambales who, a former lawmaker said, have been prevented by Chinese patrols since May to fish in Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines asserts to be within its territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Since January, the BFAR has given 75 engines, 780 tuna handlines, 14 shallow payao (fish aggregating device), 80 deep sea payao, 500 collapsible crab pots, 100 gill nets, 700 life vests, 100 sets of seaweed farm implements, 1.8 million tilapia fingerlings, six seaweed nurseries and 20 cages to more than 3,000 fisherfolk, a report showed.
The BFAR has also started a technology demonstration project for mud crabs and sea bass culture, and mangroves reforestation. It provided training in smoking, deboning and handling of fish.
The agency also gave fisherfolk smokehouse and seaweed dryers, sent them a patrol boat and extended education grants to their children.
Lawyer Asis Perez, BFAR director, confirmed on Sunday the additional support for Zambales fisherfolk but said this was part of the “increased support of the government to the sector.”
The agency’s budget of P2.3 billion in 2012 rose to P4.6 billion in 2013, he said.
“[Our assistance could be in response] to specific area intervention but the dispute over the shoal is not the reason for the additional support for those in Zambales,” Perez said by telephone.
In May, former Zambales Rep. Jun Omar Ebdane said Chinese patrols prevented him and local fishers from going near the shoal, called by locals as Bajo de Masinloc. Perez said the shoal is 128 nautical miles from Masinloc town.
A 1900 map published by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey referred to it as Panatag Shoal.
Asked if Zambales fisherfolk are still barred in the area, Perez said: “I have no information.”
Perez said the BFAR banned municipal and commercial fishing in the shoal from May 16 to July 15, 2012, as a “precautionary approach for the protection and conservation of the marine resources in the area.”
The ban was not imposed this year, he said.
He said locals fish in the area only during the summer, adding that the BFAR has not encouraged them to fish during the southwest monsoon season, when storms usually exit through western Luzon. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon