China is accused of poisoning the waters by fishing with cyanide

China is accused of poisoning the waters by fishing with cyanide

The Philippines accuses Chinese fishermen of poisoning the ecosystem of abundant, but disputed, fishing grounds in the South China Sea.

“These Chinese fishermen are using cyanide,” Nazario Priguera, spokesman for the Southeast Asian country’s fisheries office, said on Saturday, according to local media.

The Philippines and China have been at loggerheads over the Scarborough Shoal since the territorial dispute escalated in 2012 to the point where China took de facto control of the area. The shoal lies within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which according to international maritime law gives it the sole right to the natural resources found within it.

Priguera claimed that Chinese fishing crews were using a toxic chemical to intentionally damage shoals and discourage Filipino fishermen from operating in the area, which China claims as its own, as it does with most of the South China Sea.

Fishing boat sails by the Chinese Coast Guard
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails past a Filipino fishing boat near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal on February 15, 2024. The Philippines accuses Chinese fishermen of poisoning fishing grounds.

Ted Algibi/AFP via Getty Images

He added that this is “a clear case of illegal, unreported and undocumented fishing.”

China operates the world’s largest commercial fishing fleet. These vessels have been accused of plundering fish stocks in other countries, and China accounts for more than half of the world’s environmentally destructive trawling fleets.

He estimated that the alleged cyanide use may have already caused more than $17.8 million in damage, but added that the agency had not launched a formal investigation.

In an interview with GMA News Philippines over the weekend, Filipino spokesman Jay Tareella said: “We do not have any scientific study or any evidence to suggest that the cyanide fishing in Bajo de Masinloc can be attributed to Chinese or even Vietnamese fishermen.”

Fishermen from China and Vietnam, like their Filipino counterparts, have long been fishing in the shallow, resource-rich waters. However, China frequently expels Filipinos it finds there, prompting Manila to recently announce stepping up coast guard patrols to support its citizens.

The livelihoods of an estimated 385,000 people depend on what they catch from the waters around the country’s exclusive economic zone, according to government data from Manila.

Newsweek I contacted the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs with written requests for comment.

Cyanide was developed as a means of deterring live fish from being harvested for aquariums, and is now frequently used – including by Filipino fishermen – to capture seafood.

“Cyanide fishing may not be as widespread as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, and it still occurs in the Philippines,” Manila Bulletin quoted fisheries expert Alan White as saying in an article published last year.

In September, the Philippines announced that it would move forward with a lawsuit over the “incalculable and immeasurable damages” allegedly caused by Chinese fishermen while fishing coral reefs within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China has responded to its accusations of environmental violations.

Chinese state-backed media Global Times An article was published last month accusing the Philippines of damaging the environment around another part of the South China Sea, the Thomas Sholl II in the Spratly Islands, while still locating a mothballed 80-year-old warship that Manila uses to house Marines there.

A quarter-century of toxic metals and paint corrosion coupled with fossil fuel use and waste generated by those stationed there are causing “sustained and irreparable damage to surrounding marine life,” the newspaper quoted Chinese maritime strategist Yang Xiao as saying.