Marine experts urged the government on Monday to take a more assertive stance on the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, as the fish catch in the area can contribute to the country’s food supply.

The Kalayaan Group of Islands can provide 62,000 to 91,000 metric tons of fish per year that can feed 1.6 million to 2.3 million Filipinos per year, the experts said in a statement.

The marine scientists stressed that the West Philippine Sea’s richness “cannot and should not be underestimated and undervalued.”

“We are presenting these figures and facts to urge the national government to adopt a more assertive and responsive pro-Filipino management approach for the WPS (West Philippine Sea), and to enlighten the public on the critical role of this region for ecological resilience, food security and sustainable development,” said the statement, which was posted on Facebook by University of the Philippines Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

The statement came after the continued incursion of Chinese vessels on the West Philippine Sea.

The Kalayaan Group of Islands is covered with living shallow coral reefs that ensure productive fisheries and high biodiversity, the experts said.

“Besides being host to a rich marine biodiversity, coral reefs are considered to be one of the most productive marine ecosystems,” they said.

The statement also debunked Palace spokesman Harry Roque’s statement that coral reefs are mere rocks.

“Cumulative catches from 2000 to 2014 shows that 27 percent of total marine capture fisheries production in the Philippines comes from WPS while estimated fisheries production from coral reefs in the KIG (Kalayaan Group of Islands) could potentially contribute another 3-5 percent to the total marine fisheries production,” the statement read.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night claimed that he never promised to reclaim the West Philippine Sea during his presidential campaign.

“I never, never in my campaign as president, promised the people that I would retake the West Philippine Sea. I did not promise that I would pressure China,” he said, during his address last night, May 3.

During the 2016 presidential debate, however, Duterte said that he would ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands. He later said that his statement was mere “hyperbole” to stress his stance. Charlene Grace Lao