Philippines, China ban fishing in disputed sea

The Philippines and China will both impose fishing bans in the South China Sea where the two countries have been involved in a tense territorial standoff.

China had already announced its annual ban, which it says is aimed at curbing over-fishing, and includes the waters around the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines Monday refused to recognise China's measure, which runs from May 16 to August 1, as it encompasses waters it considers as its own.

But Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said President Benigno Aquino welcomed the chance to replenish fish stocks and that the Philippines would issue its own ban.

"We do not recognise China's fishing ban in as much as portions of the ban encompass our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)," del Rosario said in a statement.

"However, the president has decided that in view of the accelerated depletion of our marine resources, it would be advisable for us to issue our own fishing ban for a period of time to replenish our fish stock."

The standoff at the Scarborough Shoal began when China blocked an attempt by the Philippines on April 8 to arrest Chinese fishermen who were allegedly taking government-protected marine species from the area.

The two nations have since stationed non-military vessels at the shoal in an effort to assert their sovereignty over the area.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that no dates or exact areas had yet been set for the Philippine fishing ban.

But he added that Philippine ships at the shoal, which sits about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the main Philippine island of Luzon, would remain in the area.

China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, says it has imposed the fishing ban every year since 1999 to protect "maritime biological resources".

Vietnam, which also claims part of the South China Sea, has complained that the Chinese fishing ban violates its EEZ, and has lodged a formal protest.

The Philippines also said Monday it will lose out on about 2,000 Chinese tourists a year because of the dispute after Chinese travel agencies suspended trips.

Philippine Tourism Undersecretary Maria Victoria Jasmin said tour groups booked for May had been cancelled, reportedly on the request of Chinese tourism authorities.

"The effect was immediate but we hope it will be temporary," she told AFP.

China is the fourth largest tourist market for the Philippines, with the average Chinese tourist staying about three days and spending $100-200 a day.

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