Why Do They Go To Panatag Pangasinan Fishermen Show Their Marine Bounty

Why are Filipino fishermen attracted to Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea?

The answer came when fishermen??"fresh from three days of fishing at the shoal??"unloaded their catch at the coastal village of Cato here.

The shoal's 150-square-kilometer lagoon, as well as the waters surrounding this disputed set of sea rocks, is home to high-value fish species, such as tanigue (narrow-barred Spanish mackerel), lapu-lapu (grouper) and maya-maya (red snapper).

The crew of fishing vessel Ruvina 3 returned on Saturday, confirming that Chinese Coast Guard vessels have stopped harassing Filipino fishermen who enter Scarborough Shoal, also known to Filipinos as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.

This triangular chain of reefs and rocks, which is about 240 kilometers southwest of Infanta, was seized by China in 2012.

High-value fish species are abundant around the shoal because it is where they breed, said Westly Rosario, chief of the National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center.

"The natural environment there is good and there is no fishing pressure yet," Rosario said.

"It's a perfect breeding ground because it's a coral reef. The smaller fish are in the lagoon and the bigger fish are in the deep waters surrounding the shoal," he said.

Rosario said the fish thriving at the shoal were also free from diseases.

Panatag's lagoon is about 2 meters deep, so a fishermen could throw a fishing net to catch talakitok (jack), isdang bato (small red snapper), loro (parrot fish) and danggit (rabbit fish), said fishermen Gerry Rizol, 51, a Ruvina 3 crew member.

"We also use a spear gun to catch fish," Rizol said.

Rizol and the crew brought back Spanish mackerel and bacalao (cod fish) to Cato. They also caught a few red snappers and groupers.

The Spanish mackerel and the cod fish weighed at least 9 kilos. At the average price of P200 a kg, one mackerel could have been sold for P1,800.

Artificial reefs

They earned much less for the yellow fin tuna and gulyasan (skipjack) caught two days earlier, when Ruvina crew members paddled to the different payao (artificial reefs) scattered some 18 to 37 kilometers from the shoal.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources' fresh fish prices monitor, a kilogram of yellow fin tuna has an average price of P130 while skipjack sells for about P100 a kg.

Ruvina fishermen dropped their hooks and lines at the payao when they were first driven away by the Chinese vessels on Oct. 23, Rizol said.

Their catch from the payao was not enough for the boat owner to recoup the P100,000 in expenses for each fishing trip, he said.

So Ruvina sneaked back to the shoal on Oct. 25 and the crew was surprised to find other Filipino fishing vessels anchored at the shoal.

The Chinese vessels in the area did not budge when the crew began harvesting the riches of the shoal.

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