Chinese fishing vessels pump cyanide into disputed waters: Philippines

Chinese fishing vessels pump cyanide into disputed waters: Philippines

This photo, taken on February 15, 2024, shows an aerial view of a Chinese Coast Guard ship and Chinese Coast Guard personnel on a rubber boat over Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

  • The Philippine Fisheries Bureau said China was trying to “deliberately destroy Scarborough Shoal.”
  • This fish-rich atoll is fiercely contested by China, but it is internationally recognized as belonging to Manila.
  • On Saturday, the office accused Chinese ships of pumping cyanide into shallow waters.

The Philippine Fisheries Bureau has accused Chinese fishing vessels of using cyanide to destroy Scarborough Shoal, a fish-rich atoll in the South China Sea disputed by both Manila and Beijing.

“These Chinese fishermen are using cyanide,” Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources spokesman Nazario Preguera said on Saturday, according to a Filipino-language translation by The Philippine Star.

Cyanide fishing is a controversial fishing technique that typically involves dumping the highly toxic chemical near coral reefs or fishing grounds to stun or kill fish so they can be easily caught.

It is widely condemned because it indiscriminately affects most marine species in the area, causes serious damage to aquatic ecosystems, and can make handling or eating fish harmful.

But Pregura accused Chinese fishermen of also using cyanide to “deliberately destroy Bajo de Masinloc to prevent Filipino fishing boats from fishing in the area,” according to The Philippine Star. Bajo de Masinloc is the Spanish name for the Scarborough Shoal area.

The spokesperson estimated that the alleged use of cyanide would result in approximately $17,850,000 in damage to the area, according to the outlet.

The office said it had not conducted a formal study of the total damage, but described it as a “grave concern,” the Philippine Star reported.

This photo taken on February 15, 2024 shows an aerial view of Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

“We will see more clearly, and we will have evidence or evidence that this is indeed being done by Chinese fishermen and, apparently, other foreign fishermen,” Preguera said, according to Philippine outlet GMA News.

However, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Sunday that it had found no evidence of Chinese fishermen using cyanide, and was unable to confirm the Fisheries Bureau’s accusations.

“We do not have any scientific study or any evidence to suggest that the cyanide catch in Bajo de Masinloc can be attributed to Chinese or Vietnamese fishermen,” Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tareella told GMA News.

It is worth noting that the Philippine fishing industry was known to use cyanide fishing in the 1960s to catch live fish for aquariums and restaurants, although this practice is becoming less common. In 2023, a study by the Cebu-based Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation found that some Filipino fishermen were still using cyanide in the South China Sea.

In response to the accusations, China’s state-linked Global Times newspaper wrote that the Philippines “unfoundedly smeared China” over its cyanide claims. The outlet is known to adhere closely to Beijing’s views.

Scarborough Shoal, a pristine atoll is now a hotbed of tension

The Scarborough Shoal has been a focal point of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and is claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

The Philippines, China, and Taiwan compete for the Scarborough Shoal.
Screenshot/Google Maps

The resource-rich atoll was used by Filipino fishermen for decades, and then claimed by Manila in the 1930s. But China recently said that Chinese astronomer Guo Shujing discovered the shoal in 1279, and that Chinese fishermen have roamed the area throughout history.

In 2016, an international court in The Hague ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines in a case determining ownership of the atoll. China rejected the ruling.

Since then, Beijing has patrolled the area using warships and coast guard vessels, establishing effective control over the atoll and frequently pursuing Filipino fishermen.

Filipino fishermen on their wooden boats sail past a Chinese Coast Guard vessel near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal, in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Ted Algeby/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, fishing groups in the Philippines said hundreds of Chinese vessels were entering the region and poaching in its waters. Researchers in Quezon City accused Chinese ships in 2018 of causing damage to the atoll to the point that the devastation could be seen on Google Earth.

Recently, the Philippines accused the Chinese Coast Guard of using “dangerous” maneuvers to harass and prevent a Filipino ship from delivering supplies to fishing vessels.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider.

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