MANILA - While the Benham Rise is already considered a fishing hot-spot, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) admitted on Thursday that Filipino fishermen still lack the technology and infrastructure to take advantage of the resources there.
According to Eduardo Gongona, BFAR's National Director, majority of the fishermen in the country's eastern coasts only have small boats that prevent them from venturing further into Benham Rise.
The ones who have better access to Benham Rise, he said, are foreign poachers, who have been spotted in the boundary of the Philippine's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
"Maraming poachers. They have big fishing vessels. Parang factory na nga 'yan e. They can stay there for a long time. Kapag ganyan ka-advanced ang fishing vessel, marami talaga silang makukuha doon," he told ANC, citing information from satellite images.
(There are a lot of poachers. They have big factory-like fishing vessels and they can stay there for a long time. If the vessels are that advanced, they can haul large volumes of resources there.)
He said, given their location, these poachers, some reportedly from Japan and Taiwan, may be breaching the Philippines' EEZ and getting big volumes of fish catch.
"Paminsan-minsan nakakapasok sila. But we can never know kasi wala tayong actual report noon maliban sa nakikita natin through satellite images," he said.
(Once in a while, they can get in. But we can never know because we don't have actual reports, except for the satellite images we get.)
Gongona said the government needs a ship that is big enough to regularly go to Benham Rise, establish Philippine presence there, and scare away foreign poachers.
He said the BFAR currently has 2 research vessels and 14 surveillance ships that cannot regularly go to Benham Rise where weather conditions are rough and unpredictable.
"Kailangan natin 'yung malaki na makakapunta palagi sa Benham Rise. At least 'yung visibility mo... Nakikita ka from time to time... Makita man lang ng poachers na we're guarding our resources," he said.
(We need a bigger ship that can regularly go to Benham Rise. At least with that kind of visibility, poachers can see you from time to time and they will know that we're guarding our resources.)
Gongona also sees the need to build a fish port and a post-harvest facility in either Aurora or Quezon province where local fishermen can easily deliver and sell their catch.
He said they will be including these needed facilities in the national budget for 2018.
For now, Gongona said the least BFAR can do to assist local small and medium-scale fishermen is to put payaos, a type of fish- aggregating device, in waters near the Benham Rise.
They will also give fishermen at least 200 fiberglass boats per district to fishermen in Cagayan, Quirino and Isabela. These boats, he said, are big enough to go to farther parts of Philippine waters.