SAN FERNANDO CITY — If fishermen from Zambales and Pangasinan provinces have to deal with the Chinese Coast Guard at Panatag Shoal, their counterparts in Ilocos Norte province have been troubled by Vietnamese commercial fishermen who have been poaching on their “payaw” (fish aggregating devices or artificial reef).
Big Vietnamese fishing vessels have been anchored for days at payaw areas more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) off Ilocos Norte, Domingo La Torre, president of the Pasuquin Tuna Fishermen Association, said on Monday.
The Vietnamese also use “super light,” a device to attract fish, which is prohibited in the country by the Fisheries Code of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8550).
“We have small fishing boats which can carry two men. We go to the sea at 2 a.m., and return to shore at 2 p.m. When we get to our payaw areas, the tuna are almost all gone, caught by the Vietnamese vessels,” La Torre said.
Local fishermen and personnel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) identify a vessel’s origin through its shape and color. La Torre said the fishing boats they usually see in the area were similar to the Vietnamese ships blocked by the Philippine Navy in 2016 and 2017.
Ilocos fishermen used to catch up to 20 pieces of tuna daily but had since been coming home with only a single fish or two, he said.
Each payaw was put up by fishermen for which they spent about P100,000.
There used to be 15 payaw off Ilocos Norte but four of these were washed away by typhoons, La Torre said. The payaw is set offshore near the tuna migration path, 570 to
660 km from the coast, in waters as deep as 4,000 meters.
The government is considering registering payaw so poachers could be charged with theft under local laws, said Nestor Domenden, BFAR Ilocos regional director. —YOLANDA SOTELO
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