Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (ATMI), a Washington based think tank, has said the region is under threat from overfishing, dredging, island building and clam harvesting with China being a major culprit. 12 percent of the fish caught in the world comes from the South China Sea. As reported by The Philippine Star, Mr Poling told the ANC’s Headstart: “If fish stocks collapse there, it’s gonna hit fisherfolk everywhere in Southeast Asia.”
The vast region which sees one-third of international shipping pass through it has parts of the sea and islands within claimed by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Some of these nations have encouraged fishermen to fish in these waters.
Mr Poling argued: “The Chinese heavily subsidised fishers to go out to the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Vietnam does the same and even if parties wanted to do something about it, it’s impossible to enforce fishery rules out there.”
Mr Poling explained that it would be hard to control even if The Philippines passed a fishing ban due to lack of surveillance to monitor any illegal fishing.
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Fish stocks have been depleted by to between 70 and 95 percent according to the AMTI director due to military exercises in the region.
A now-deleted tweet from Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Junior had accused Chinese poaches of making thousands of dollars by illegally harvesting clams at the Scarborough Shoal.
Mr Poling agreed with Mr Locsin, tweeting: “The Chinese poachers aren’t eating them either. They can get thousands of dollars for each shell for jewellery & figurines. They toss the meat into the sea.”
China’s claim covers the largest area of any of the claimants.
The claim by China overlaps all the claims of all but three claimants.
These three claimants are Cambodia who claim part of the Gulf of Thailand along with Malaysia, who also have disputes with Singapore over the Straits of Johor and Singapore Strait.
China does not have a claim to any of these bodies of water.
The name of the sea differs for some claimants, with The Philippines referring to it as The West Philippine Sea and the Vietnamese referring to it as the East Sea.