Giant clam digging by Chinese fishermen damages corals in the Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), an official said.

This, as Philippine and Chinese vessels continue to stake their countries’ claim to the shoal, in what is now a month-long “standoff.”

“Definitely may impact ‘yun (clam digging). I have not seen how they do it, pero malamang it will damage the corals,” Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic resources director Asis Perez said in a phone interview.

Giant clams, commonly called taklobo, live on coral beds and are considered endangered.

“For you to be able to get that out, you need anything na may fork para matanggal mo sa nakadikit na coral,” Perez said.

Filipino fishermen do not harvest giant clams and corals in Panatag, according to the BFAR chief.

“Karamihan sa Pilipino dun nangingisda, nangangawil, naglalambat, naninisid… wala namang pagdadalhan niyan sa atin eh, bawal yan sa atin. Kung kumuha ka, san mo dadalahin?” he said.

Perez said the BFAR has not yet made an assessment of the effects of China’s giant clam digging to Panatag’s marine environment.

In an April 30 report, the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command said it spotted several Chinese boats with fishermen harvesting giant clams in the shoal, using crowbars.

Earlier, the Navy tried to arrest several Chinese fishermen on big vessels loaded with giant clams, corals, and live sharks believed to be caught around Panatag.

The arrest, however, was not made as vessels of the Chinese Maritime Surveillance arrived on April 10 and triggered a “standoff.”

The Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar was eventually withdrawn from Panatag and replaced by vessels from the Coast Guard and BFAR, in what officials said was a move to let civilian agencies deal with another civilian agency.

“Their mission there is to be present and monitor, and to stake our claim on the area, they’re not doing an (environmental) assessment,” Perez said. (John Roson)

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