Philippines tells its fishermen to ignore China’s fishing moratorium

The Philippine government has refused to accept China’s ban on a seasonal fishing moratorium in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, encouraging Philippine fishing vessels to continue fishing in Philippine territorial waters.

China has been implementing an annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea and other Chinese coastal areas since 1999, banning fishing from May 1 to August 16 each year.

The Philippine South China Sea Task Force said in a statement Tuesday (May 4) evening that “the fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen.”

The task force objected to China’s ban on seasonal closures in Philippine territorial waters and jurisdictions, saying “we encourage our fishermen to go to sea and fish in our West Philippine Sea waters.”

The Philippines refers to the waters as the West Philippine Sea and has a long-standing sovereignty dispute with China. China claims rights over much of the South China Sea. An international arbitration tribunal ruled in 2016 that China’s claims were invalid, but China rejected them.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has adopted a strategy to remain friendly with China, but the two countries have recently escalated their conflict after Manila accused China of sending hundreds of ships into the resource-rich disputed waters. The Philippines protests China’s illegal incursions and says the ships are operated by maritime militias. China, for its part, says the ships are there to take shelter from the storm and are not military vessels.

The Philippine South China Sea Task Force spotted seven “Chinese maritime militia” boats on Sabina Shoal (known as Xianbin Reef in China) in the disputed Spratly Islands on April 27, and they dispersed after being challenged by the Philippine Coast Guard. Five of the vessels returned two days later and left before the Philippine Coast Guard vessels arrived.

Sabina Reef is about 130 nautical miles from Palawan Island in the western Philippines. The task force said, “The Philippines will defend our national interests, heritage and our national dignity with everything we have without hesitation.”