The Philippines’ two-month fishing ban at the hotly-contested Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) expires Sunday, amid a fresh deployment of Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

As of Saturday, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has not yet issued a directive to continue the “close fishing season,” its director, Asis Perez said.

“Wala pa po tayong action dun, pagka hindi po tayo nagbigay ng bagong directive tomorrow, or by Monday, ibig sabihin expired na ‘yun… hanggang [July] 15 lang po yun” Perez said in a phone interview.

The ban’s expiration comes amid reports that China sent a big fishing fleet to the South China Sea, which Manila calls its West Philippine Sea.

The 30-vessel fleet set out from the southern Chinese province of Hainan on Thursday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Last May 13, China announced that an “annual” fishing ban was to be imposed in parts of the South China Sea, including waters around Panatag Shoal which it calls Huangyan Island.

The Philippines, which was then locked in a “standoff” with Chinese law enforcement vessels in Panatag, also declared a fishing ban days after, but said it had nothing to do with China’s move.

China’s fishing ban was imposed May 16 and will last until August 1, Xinhua reported then.

However, Chinese fishing vessels, which bring along dozens of dinghies, have been monitored inside Panatag’s “lagoon” since the ban’s supposed implementation until as recently as July 2, according to Philippine security officials. (John Roson)

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