Palau’s new president vows to continue PNMS, prioritizes domestic fishery development
Surangel Whipps Jr. was sworn in as president of Palau on 21 January, and said he will continue the nation’s signature policy – the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS).
In his inaugural address last week, Whipps said he considers the famed marine sanctuary as one of the world’s most aggressive environmental initiatives.
“The PNMS has inspired conservation leaders around the world, and set a standard to which all ocean states should aspire. We have reclaimed our own maritime resources, and rejected harmful foreign fishing practices,” Whipps said.
He said to maintain the PNMS statute, his government will work to achieve improved food security in light of COVID-19-related border restrictions, and develop a domestic fishing zone.
In January 2020, Palau implemented the marine sanctuary, which closed 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to fishing and all other extractive activities such as mining, shark-finning, and transshipment.
During the election campaign, the future of the PNMS emerged as a key issue of debate. Whipps – who succeeded his brother-in-law, former President Tommy Remengesau Jr. – argued there is more to gain from the PNMS.
“What we need to do is to develop our domestic fleet. Maybe if Palauans become part of this industry, Palau can export high-value products. This is the challenge,” Whipps told reporters in December. “For the past five years, we were supposed to get ready, but we have been a little bit behind. So what we need to work on is how to get that fishing fleet developed quickly. What are other ways to make use of this resource to benefit Palauans people.”
Since its implementation, the PNMS, administered by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), has taken various steps to build a stronger domestic fish market.
Researchers at PICRC are utilizing tuna-tagging and satellite tracking technology to better understand tuna movement and location so local fishermen can easily catch them.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET), with the support of PICRC, is also working with a newly formed organization – Belau Offshore Fishers Incorporated (BOFI) – to develop a domestic market for tuna and other pelagic species by setting prices of tuna caught in the waters of Palau.
MNRET has also invested in the equipment and infrastructure needed for the development of a domestic pelagic-fish market, including the purchase of cold storage container and pole-and-line vessels.
Photo courtesy of Richard Brooks