Foreign poachers are still conducting activities in the Philippines’ northern seas and are now even going closer to the islands of Batanes, officials said Saturday.

“Many of these are Taiwanese fishing boats. Actually they even get near the islands, particularly Itbayat,” Milagros Morales, assistant director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-2 (BFAR-2), said by phone.

“Hindi naman kasing dami as in the past, but they are still there, still visible,” she added.

Morales made the remarks when asked on the status of poaching activities in the Balintang Channel, which borders the Philippines and Taiwan.

Aside from Taiwanese, local fishermen are also reporting sightings of Vietnamese and Chinese poachers, Batanes provincial fisheries officer Angel Encarnacion said in a separate phone interview.

“We don’t know how many there are, but poachers are still coming in even after we arrested one last year,” Encarnacion said, referring to the arrest of Taiwanese Tsai Po off Itbayat on September 3, 2013.

Boats that usually go near the islands are those that catch fish and other marine animals, which are later unloaded to a “mother” vessel lurking far away, he said.

“Local fishermen are reporting the sightings and some have even expressed willingness to go after the poachers, but we remind them not to because we have diplomatic arrangements with Taiwan,” Encarnacion added.

Presently, only one BFAR vessel – manned by Coast Guard members – is patrolling the country’s northern seas.

“Poachers would usually keep out of sight when the vessel patrols and then come back when it’s away,” Morales said.

She said patrols by the BFAR and Coast Guard are still continuing despite “constraining” effects of another incident, where eight Coast Guard personnel were charged homicide after shooting a Taiwanese poacher who intruded Philippine waters on May 9, 2013.

“Dahil sa kaso natin last year, parang helpless tayo, hindi tayo masyadong makagalaw… We have to do it (patrols) because if we will just leave them (poachers) to it, parang nakakasakit naman sa loob na nandiyan lang sila at wala tayong magawa,” she said.

Also because of continuous poaching, the BFAR ordered the construction of a customized boat that would help its vessel conduct patrols, Encarnacion said.

The boat, worth about P1 million, is being fashioned after Taiwanese fishing boats to withstand rough sea conditions in the Balintang Channel and is expected to be launched in June, he said.

The provincial fisheries office also gave a local fishermen’s association another boat, binoculars, navigational equipment, and communication devices so they can help monitor poachers, Encarnacion said.

“We are doing this while waiting for the multi-mission vessels that the national [BFAR] office will send to Batanes,” Encarnacion said.

BFAR director Asis Perez announced earlier this year that the bureau will acquire more than 40 units of 30-footer and 40-footer multi-mission vessels to strengthen visibility and patrols in different parts of the country. (John Roson)

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