SCS claimants urged to expand protected area in contested waters

MANILA China and some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states with contesting claims in disputed islands on the South China Sea should sign a separate declaration establishing specifics to address environmental issues in the region such as the decline of fisheries.

??I think this is something China and ASEAN should recognize, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).??

We saw the need for a separate declaration in the next decade, a cooperation on marine and shoreline, the need for a separate track to deal with this issue," he said during a forum on Friday.??

Poling, who is also a fellow of US-based think thank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), held the discussions with government officials, academics, and experts on fisheries and environmental cooperation in the South China Sea in Makati City.??

During the event, he presented the Blueprint for fisheries and environmental cooperation in the South China Sea," a product of joint collaboration by experts from the US, Europe, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, China, and Taiwan.??

According to a 2017 AMTI report, "total fish stocks in the South China Sea have been depleted by 70 to 95 percent since the 1950s and catch rates have declined by 66 to 75 percent over the last 20 years."??

Further, over 160 square kilometers of coral reefs were cited "already destroyed" due to giant clam harvesting, dredging, and artificial island building in recent years.??

Unless claimants act accordingly, the South China Sea fishery which benefits about 3.7 million people and helps feed hundreds of millions "is now in danger of collapse."??

To begin rehabilitation and prevention efforts, the analyst said coastal states should increase protected areas in the region and create a provisional patrol zones in the region, which will be tagged solely" on scientific criteria.

??They (claimant countries) are not negotiating territorial occupation, they are merely negotiating where you're going to patrol in a jointly agreed fisheries rule, he explained.??

At present, China and claimant states from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to start talks on the creation of the binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.??

During the ASEAN chairmanship of the Philippines in 2017, the bloc also signed the Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea (2017-2027) recognizing commitment to protect the area.??

Under the AMTI model, the think tank urged the establishment of a distinct ecosystem-based fisheries zones in the disputed water and floated the split enforcement responsibilities between occupiers and flag states.??

Among others, it asked "coordinated efforts to reintroduce giant clams and other threatened species such as sea turtles to depopulated reefs" in the region.??

For Poling, should a separate declaration be framed, nothing they signed up for is gonna prejudice their claims. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency