Philippines Pulls Back on Fishing at Scarborough Shoal

File image courtesy Kalayaan Atin Ito

By MarEx 2016-08-03 21:08:27

The Philippine government has asked Filipino commercial fishermen to avoid some of the most hotly contested waters in the South China Sea, despite a recent international court decision affirming their fishing rights. 

“Scarborough [Shoal] is really just for artisanal fishing. Basically, artisanal fishing and it should be left alone by those who are engaged in commercial fishing,” spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Wednesday. Artisanal fishermen "can still go to [Scarborough Shoal] but they are advised to proceed with caution," he added. 

"Some guidelines are already in place. You know, for example, there should be no commercial fishing within Scarborough. So, that's already in place. It's not a new one. It's just being implemented," he clarified. "We are simply saying that there are certain kinds of fishermen who are allowed and who should be there and can fish inside." He added that he believed that there are "hardly, if any at all, artisanal fishers" at Scarborough, which lies 120 nm off Luzon. 

The Philippines recently won a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, which found that China's claims to most of the South China Sea and to the waters surrounding many of its land features were invalid. China has disregarded the ruling, describing it as "waste paper," and its Supreme Court recently warned that fishermen found in "Chinese" waters could be jailed. 

Chinese forces have chased Philippine fishermen and activists away from Scarborough Shoal for some time, and reports indicate that this has not changed following the court ruling. China has maintained a Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement presence at the shoal since 2012. 

The recently elected Philippine government of Rodrigo Duterte has made conflicting statements on the issue of South China Sea sovereignty, and has not played up the favorable court ruling. Abella's remarks build on statements made by the government immediately following the court's decision, when it asked fishermen to proceed carefully at Scarborough and near other contested land features. The statements run contrary to a promise Duterte made in June that “there will never be an instance that we will surrender our right over Scarborough Shoal.”