Posted inStory / Palau

Re-opening Palau National Marine Sanctuary to foreign fishing mulled

Palau to allow foreign fishing within its EEZ to recover from the impact of the pandemic on its economy.

Once again, a proposal to amend the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act (PNMS), a landmark conservation legislation Palau is known for, to allow foreign fishing within Palau’s EEZ, is being entertained by Olbiil Era Kelulau(OEK).

House Bill 11-30-2S seeks to amend PNMS Act by lifting the ban on fishing within the 80% EEZ currently designated as a no-fishing zone.  The bill proposes to allow foreign fishing companies to conduct long line and purse seining activities within what is now the no-take zone of the PNMS for a period of five years.

Citing pandemic impact on Palau’s economy, the measure states that lifting the fishing ban would serve as short term solution for economic recovery.

“The Olbiil Era Kelulau finds that temporarily permitting long-line fishing and purse-seining utilising free school operations under the international and foreign fishing agreements within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Palau’s waters is one such short-term measure that can general revenue and aids our recovery.”

A similar proposal was introduced in 2019 and the debate continued into the 2020 election campaign among presidential candidates.

In December 2020, then president-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. at a press conference expressed his position on the PNMS saying, “There is more to gain under the current system. It is about how to maximise our resources to benefit the Palauan people, “ said Whipps Jr.

The House bill claims in its findings that prior to the closure of PNMS to foreign fishing fleets that “foreign fishing agreements brought significant revenue to the Republic.”  It said that allowing fishing agreements again will provide a short-term measures for economic recovery.

Government financial reports show prior to the full closure of PNMS, the government was getting around US$700k from fishing licenses.  This amount was divided among state governments and national governments based on a formula. States were receiving an average of US$40k per year, some more and some less based on population.  Palau receives an average of US$8 million per year from fishing days or the Vessel Days Scheme(VDS) even though there is no fishing on the 80% of the EEZ.   In 2020 it received US$7.8 million while in 2019, it received US$8.4 million from VDS.

Reports also show that grants, both in-kind such as patrol boat and fuel and money received as a result of PNMS have exceeded US$70 million.  This year, PNMS received US$1.8 million from UNDP to enhance implementation of the PNMS over a 4 -year period.

Whipps in his remarks said the project will strengthen PNMS “provides an opportunity for … all key stakeholders to address how we could strengthen management – and paramount to this – how Palauans can continue to benefit from our Palau National Marine Sanctuary.”

The House bill said that temporary permitting fishing will provide revenue to states and the national government.

“By temporarily permitting fishing pursuant to foreign fishing agreements within EEZ, the Republic will bring much-needed revenue for the national and state governments, as well as local vendors and will have a significant positive impact on the economy.”

This story was published at Island Times on 16 July 2021, reposted PACNEWS.

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