Fishers' group claims imported fish from China caught in WPS; BFAR says there's 'no concrete basis'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 27) — A fishers' group in Zambales claimed imported fish from China are caught in the West Philippine Sea, but a government agency said there's "no concrete basis" for the presumption.

"Mayroon po talagang nanggagaling na isda mula sa China na ini-import po dito sa atin at yung kanilang panindang isda na ibinebenta sa atin ay galing po sa ating karagatan," New Masinloc Fishermen's Association President Leonardo Cuaresma told CNN Philippines' Politics As Usual on Wednesday.

[Translation: We actually import fish from China and the fish they are selling us come from our seas.]

"Ginigisa tayo sa sarili nating mantika. Ganun po ang nangyayari," Cuaresma added. [We are being fried in our own oil. That's what’s happening.]

However, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) spokesperson Naz Briguera maintained that the claim has "no concrete basis."

"In terms of importation, we only import actually during the time we are implementing our closed fishing season," Briguera said. "Yes, kumukuha tayo sa China pero wala po tayong basehan na itong inaangkat po natin ay galing din sa West Philippine Sea."

[Translation: Yes, we are importing fish from China but we have no basis that they come from the West Philippine Sea.]

The BFAR official also maintained that China gets its fish from its own territorial waters.

"Hindi naman po West Philippine Sea lang naman ang fishing ground nila. We can assume na galing din ito sa mga lugar pangisdaan para sa China," Briguera said.

[Translation: The West Philippine Sea is not their only fishing ground. We can assume that China has other fishing grounds.]

According to Briguera, China's presence in Baja de Masinloc is preventing Filipino fishermen from catching up to 30 tons of fish a day.

"Our fisherfolk are not able to maximize their productivity from that area because there is an existing challenge for them," he said.

Cuaresma said Masinloc fishermen will do whatever it takes to fight for their right to fish in the disputed area.

"Wala pong ibang uri ng skills na maipagmamalaki ang ating mga mangingisda kundi tanging pangigisda lang," he said. "Kung kami ay pipigilan, siguro diyan na rin po kami mamamatay at talagang ipaglalaban namin yung aming karapatan sa atin pong karagatan.”

[Translation: Our fishermen can boast of no other skills other than fishing. If we will be prevented from doing so, perhaps it's there where we will lay down our lives and fight for our rights in our waters.]

China imposed a fishing ban in the South China Sea, including some parts of the West Philippine Sea, which took effect in May and lasted until August.