New changes coming to Palau’s national marine sanctuary law

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Photo of the proposed area of the new domestic fishing zone of Palau. Photo courtesy of Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC).

Proposed amendments to the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act (PNMS) to lift the export ban on pelagic fish and create a corridor to the high seas as the new boundary for the 20 percent Domestic Fishing Zone (DFZ) will be signed into law today (June 12).

The bill seeks to allow commercial exports of fish within the DFZ for its economic “vital revenue” from foreign fishing license fees and for Palau to also earn revenue from fish caught inside and exported from the domestic fishing zone.

It will also allow fish caught with long-line fishing to be exported commercially. In the current PNMS law, the DFZ only allows exports of fish caught by free school purse-seining.

The amendments also redefined the new boundaries of the domestic fishing zone have been reoriented splitting the adjacent 80% of the PNMS and allowing a corridor extending into the high seas.

The high seas corridor, the lawmakers said will allow local fishermen to have access to the fish. 

The corridor – boundaries start at 24-miles from the baseline where the exclusive economic zone is measured and encircles Ngeruangel, Kayangel, Babeldaob, Koror, Peleliu, Angaur and stretches outward from points to the north of Ngeruangel and the south of Angaur into the high seas in the west.

The bill further proposes to allow long-line fishing activity within the domestic fishing zone.

Senate Bill No. 10-157, SD1 has been transmitted to the House of Delegates after the Senate approval on June 3.

Expedited approval by the House of Delegates, and hence OEK passage, is expected as the amendments were the result of consultations between the president’s office and both OEK houses.

The lawmakers are seeking to allow commercial exports of fish within the DFZ for its economic “vital revenue” from foreign fishing license fees and for Palau to also earn revenue from fish caught inside and exported from the domestic fishing zone.

It will allow fish caught with long-line fishing to be exported commercially. Currently, the domestic fishing zone allows exports only on free school purse-seining.

The new boundaries of the domestic fishing zone have been reoriented splitting the contiguous 80% of the PNMS no-take zone and allowing a corridor extending into the high seas. The corridor – boundaries start at 24-miles from the baseline where the exclusive economic zone is measured and encircles Ngeruangel, Kayangel, Babeldaob, Koror, Peleliu, Angaur and stretches outward from points to the north of Ngeruangel and the south of Angaur into the high seas in the west.

The 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will still be a no-take zone but the designated domestic fishing zone will not be economically viable if it prohibits exports of the fish caught in the area.

The 24-mile baseline, meanwhile it will also allow the pole-and-line fishing operations to fish much closer to home instead of moving beyond the 50-mile radius.

The government said the amendments also in consultation with Japan who has made a request on behalf of small scale fishermen from Okinawa who traditionally fish down south into Palau’s exclusive economic zones.

All fish caught in the zone will have to be landed on Palau, but the fisheries minister can give exemptions to landing obligations.

The expected changes to the law are being introduced before the PNMS takes effect on January 1, 2020.