President proposes commercial fishing ban

THE President of Palau has proposed a ban on all commercial fishing in the Pacific nation’s waters to create one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

President Tommy Remengesau, who was elected last November, says banning commercial fishing could help Palau earn more money from tourism than it currently gets from tuna fleets. The leader has also recognised the economic benefits of still alowing catch and release sportfishing in the region.

Remengesau says his vision is for an area “so well protected” that Palau would become the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

“No longer will Palau be merely a shark sanctuary, it will be a sea sanctuary that protects all marine wildlife within Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” President Remengesau said.

Palau won international acclaim when it created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009.

The nation featured in a controversial marine parks story that ran on Australian 60 Minutes in 2011. The story highlighted Palau as the definitive example of why marine parks should be embraced by rec fishers; it was also widely criticised by rec fishing groups for seeming to conveniently ignore the fact Palau’s problems were all related to commercial fishing. See the 60 Minutes story HERE.

Palau’s EEZ covers almost 630,000 square kilometres of the northern Pacific, including world-renowned scuba diving and snorkelling sites.

The nation of 300 islands, with a population of about 21,000, has generated negligible revenue from foreign fishing vessels plying its waters. Palau earns about $5 million a year from the fishing industry, with about $4 million coming from tuna fishing, which is dominated by vessels from Japan and Taiwan.

However, Palau has only one ageing patrol boat and President Remengesau has conceded enforcing any commercial fishing ban will be difficult.

President Remengesau said the Asian Development Bank estimated the global tuna industry was worth $4 billion a year and only nine per cent went to Pacific nations, where most of the fish are caught.

“Revenue received from commercial fishing licences and taxes from commercial fishing is a drop in the bucket compared to the profits made by large fishing companies,” he said.

“An EEZ-wide no commercial fishing zone would mean that only sustenance fishing by Palauan residents and tourism-related sport catch-and-release fishing would be permitted.”

He said the proposal was in its early stages and the government would look at alternative revenue sources before implementing it, particularly tourism.

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