Palau changes famed marine sanctuary law, allowing commercial exports

Changes to Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary – an area encompassing 500,000 square kilometers and roughly 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone – will now allow fish exports in the domestic fishing zone. 

The law takes effect in 2020 and, although the ban on fish exports has been lifted, 80 percent of the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will still be a no-take zone.

The changes also move the location of the domestic fishing zone closer to the high seas so that foreign fishing vessels that enter Palau waters to fish do not go to the protected area.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau stated when he signed the bill into law on 12 June that the lifting of the ban “clears the way for a more robust fishery."

"Studies have shown that without commercial export, development of a domestic fishery will not be viable," Remengesau said.

Under the old law, commercial exports were prohibited, which discouraged foreign fishing vessels to continue operations in the country, as they were only allowed to sell their catch in the domestic market. Although landing of catch on Palau will still be required under the changes, the head of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET) will now be able to provide exemptions to that requirement.

MNRET said it is most likely that Japanese-flagged vessels will be exempted from landing their catch on Palau. 

“We also understand that this amendment allows Japanese fishing vessels to continue their operation after 2020, and we welcome this amendment,” Hitomi Murakami, a representative of the Embassy of Japan, said. 

Murakami added that Japan has “kept requesting the stable operation for Japanese fishing vessels after 2020 to the Palauan government so far."

"Japan understands that the recent amendment was submitted by the Palauan government for the purpose of promoting future domestic fishery in Palau," Murakami said.

However, MNRET Minister Umiich Sengebau said a bio-economic feasibility assessment from the Forum Fisheries Agency and Secretariat Pacific Community has indicated that “without the ability to export some or all of the catch from longline operations, a domestic longline fishery will almost certainly not be viable.”

He said that the changes are still in line with the vision of the marine sanctuary policy; which is to ensure economic and social benefits to Palauans by preserving a large part of the country’s EEZ, enabling a healthy domestic fishery.

The changes also give concession to the Japan government’s request to allow longline fishermen from Okinawa to continue access to Palau’s fishing resources. The old law prevented Okinawan fishers from taking their catch outside of Palau. 

"Japan has come out and actually endorsed the amendment and that's good for Japan, but it was really something we want to do for Palau to have an industry that we can sustain," Sengebau said. 

According to MNRET, Okinawan fleets make up nearly 50 percent of all longline fishing vessels operating in Palau.  

The Okinawan fishers’ catch varies but vacillates between 500 and 1,500 metric tons in most years, depending on environmental conditions.

The new law increases the fish export tax from USD 0.35 (EUR 0.31) per kilogram to USD 0.50 (EUR 0.44). And it designates an area of about 24 nautical miles for artisanal fishing and pole-and-line, sport, personal, and recreational fishing.  

Under the new law, the PNMS administration will now be in the hands of the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC).   


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