Infanta, Quezon – Benham Rise may have entered the consciousness of most Filipinos only recently, but to the residents of Dinahican village here, it has long been part of the fisher folk’s lives for nearly four decades now.
Romeo Sarco, 59, a boat captain, said it was during his generation that Benham Rise was discovered by local fishermen as a bountiful fishing ground.
Sarco is the president of Sakamadi – Samahan ng mga Kapitan ng Mangingisda sa Dinahican. He is the recognized leader of boat captains in the towns of Infanta, Real, and Nacar. “That’s more than 500 fishermen,” he said.
BENHAM BOUND – Fishermen on Friday load a fishing net onto their boat at the port of Infanta, Quezon, for the 20-hour trip to Benham Rise. Fishing boats accompanied five government ships to Benham, where Chinese research vessels have been spotted. The expedition was led by Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. (Mark Balmores | Manila Bulletin)
Much sought-after fish like blue-fin and yellow-fin tuna abound in Benham Rise, he said
Sarco said local fishermen came to know of the abundance of Benham Rise because of a fisherman named Anot Renhel. “He’s from Infanta. His father has passed away, while his mother is still here, too old to walk,” Sarco said.
Sarco said that Renhel was still a utility man on one fishing vessel when sometime in the 1980s, he randomly picked a spot some 30 hours off the coast of Dinahican via normal boat.
“Sa Pilipinas ito. Ito ay pulo, pero hindi makita kasi malalim, eh (This belongs to the Philippines. This is an island, but it’s not visible because it’s under water),” he quoted Renhel as saying.
It was like unearthing a treasure chest, he quoted Renhel as saying. “There was so many fish. It was the best fishing ground out there.”
“The only difficultly is that it’s very far,” Sarco said. of Benham Rise, which the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) declared part of the Philippines’ continental shelf in 2012.
Depending on the speed of the boat, Benham Rise can be reached by Dinahican fishermen in 20 to 30 hours.
But the advantage is that fishermen don’t need to say long in the area because it is so bountiful.
“You just need to spend one to three days there, then you go back home. With other fishing spots, you could spend three days with no catch, meaning you can’t come home yet,” Sarco said.
He said Renhel is now the captain of a big vessel.
BENHAM RISE EXPEDITION
Sarco joined dozens of other fishermen in an expedition to Benham Rise that was launched at the fish port here Friday afternoon.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol led the expedition, one of the purposes of which is to assess Benham Rise as a food source. The area is also said to be rich in gas hydrates used as fuel.
The expedition, done in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), will last from 12 noon to 5 p.m. It will feature the deployment of “payaos” from the fishermen and a survey of the shallow portion of the area by technical divers.
The government activity came on the heels of the reported presence of foreign vessels in Benham Rise a few weeks ago.
Sarco confirmed that foreign vessels have also fished along with locals at Benham Rise through the years.
“As long as they leave us be, I’m OK with that,” he commented.
Secretary Piñol Friday morning led the distribution of fishing boats and implements to almost 20 handline and ringnet fisherfolk groups here to further strengthen their capabilities.
Given away were 15 30-foot motorized fiberglass boats and 15 offshore payaos.
“It brings us great joy that we were given this aid,” Sarco said.