Palau checks out movement of yellowfin tuna, blue marlin

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A two-year mission to examine the movement of yellowfin tuna and Indo-Pacific blue marlin was launched in Palau late last year.

Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), together with Dr. Alan Friedlander from National Geographic’s Pristine Seas and the University of Hawaii, and with support from the Government of Italy and National Geographic Pristine Seas, are working on the mission to determine the effectiveness of a large-scale marine protected area for the conservation of highly mobile species and its potential value to local fisheries.

Palau is the first country to declare 80 percent of its 193,000 square miles of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a no-take zone, or the so-called Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS).

The study is to look into the extent to which the PNMS will provide protection for highly mobile species such as tuna and billfish, which are a major focus of the local fishery.

A press release from the PICRC said that effective management under the PNMS depends upon understanding the amount of time these fishes spend within the sanctuary, the extent of their migrations, and the importance of Palau as a spawning and nursery area for these species.

“This is the first ever scientific examination of the effectiveness of a large-scale marine protected area for the conservation of highly mobile species and its potential value to local fisheries,” says researcher Dr. Alan Friedlander.

The researchers will work with local fishers with the use of advanced satellite and acoustic technologies to examine the movement of tuna and other important fisheries species.

The press release said preliminary results suggest young adult yellowfin tuna and blue marlin are well protected within the PNMS.

While some yellowfin fish moved outside of Palau’s waters, most tuna and all the blue marlin tagged stayed within the sanctuary boundaries. Further research will expand our knowledge and understanding of the movements and behaviors of these species.

Understanding the movement of open-ocean fishes in and around Palau is critical to the sanctuary’s success.

Science and monitoring is a key component of the PNMS, and data from this study will provide valuable information about the ecology of yellowfin tuna, billfish, and other open-water species. This will provide essential baseline information to compare the fisheries’ productivity before and after the establishment of the PNMS.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism, in their year-end report for 2017 submitted to Palau President Tommy Remengesau, said that historically, reef fish have been a staple of the Palauan diet. However, increased fishing pressure on these often slow-growing species has caused a significant decline in their biomass in recent years.

As part of the PNMS, which will be implemented by 2020, transitioning Palau’s pelagic fishery – which is currently dominated by foreign fleets – into a purely domestic fishery should alleviate pressure on reef-associated species and help preserve pelagic fish stocks within the EEZ for Palauans.

Under the PNMS law, 20 per cent of the EEZ will be a domestic fishing zone.

Palau partners, including National Geographic, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) have committed to the project.

Palau’s marine surveillance boosted with new patrol boat

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Boosting its marine surveillance, a Japan-funded patrol boat arrived in Koror Palau on December 19, 2017.

An official handover ceremony is scheduled to take place in February 2018.

PSS Kedam is the additional patrol boat for Palau. Palau has the existing PSS H.I Remeliik, which is 31.5-meter (104ft). Remeliik is Palau’s first patrol board donated by the Australian government .

The new patrol boat Kedam is funded with the grant by the Nippon Foundation at a cost of over $30 million. Kedam is expected to enhance Palau’s marine surveillance capabilities and police its s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

It is also part of the grant assistance from the Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation on the 10-year $70 million assistance provided by the two foundations referred to as the Support to Enhance Coast Guard Capabilities and Promote Eco-conscious Tourism in Palau.

The Nippon Foundation also provided new berth and the administration building., while the Sasakawa Peace Foundation provided capacity training and salary for the crew.

In 2016, Palau through President Tommy Remengesau Jr., Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation chairman Jiro Hanyu. signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) .

The MOU also includes the donation of another small patrol boat.

The Nippon Foundation will provide financial support to cover fuel and maintenance cost for the vessel until the end of Japanese fiscal year 2027, and for the boat until the end of Japanese fiscal year 2026.

The Sasakawa Peace Foundation will fund employment of crews to operate the medium-sized patrol vessel, including the training of those crews, which will be conducted by the Japanese partner organizations until the end of Japanese fiscal year 2027.

On its way to Palau from Japan, PSS Kedam encountered typhoons. The vessel and crew made a stop at Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, and also detoured to Philippines to avoid two separate storms.

However the 15-men crew of the new boat, boasted of the new vessel’s capability to weather out the storm.

The patrol vessel departed from Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture on December 8th.

Members of the Palauan crew are Captain Mayce Ngirmeriil, Executive Officer Jim Shiro Kloulechad, Chief Engineer Moses Nestor, Engineer Kamrul Zaman, Navigator Duke Joseph and Officers Gerwin Ngemelas Temong, Zachary Ngiraului Remengesau, Franley Omkar Chokai, Allen Lauren Ngiralmau, Ronald Beltau Yashiro, Wyzer Meyar Seklii, Gerald Ringang, Jr., Lenin Lmatk Louis, Harley S. Remoket and Carlos R. Ngirturong. The crew was accompanied by their Japanese counterparts, including Master Hatakeyama Kaoru, Commanding Officer Ryuzaki Misao, Second Officer Matsubara Yoshihiro, Kita Shojiro, Sakurai Motonori, and Doi Shiro.

The PSS Kedam is named after the Great Frigate Bird of Palau, a sea bird that is the largest bird found in Palau.

“The Kedam is a seafaring navigator that searches for food for hundreds of miles and never forgets its way back home. Territorial and cunning, the PSS Kedam is aptly named after this magnificent bird of Palau,” said Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. during the naming and launching ceremony in Hiroshima on September 18, 2017.



Tuna commission adopts Pacific proposal to increase port inspections of suspect fishing boats

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The Forum Fisheries Agency is delighted that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has adopted its proposal for a new Port State Measure to combat illegal fishing by boosting Pacific Island capacity to conduct port inspections.

Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) James Movick said the adoption of the port state measure is a victory against illegal fishing.

“WCPFC has just right now adopted the Port State management measure. It has taken four years for us to get it to this point and it has required quite a lot of dedication by the members and on the part of the FFA secretariat,” Movick told reporters this morning.

“What this does is … puts into place within the WCPFC area a port state management measure that allows for the inspection of boats in ports but on a basis that is affordable and achievable by the member countries,” Movick stated.

“I am very, very happy that we have been able to get this out of this Commission meeting,” Movick said

Pamela Maru the FFA official who led the project was pleased that the initiative was one of the first to take by the WCPFC to cater to the special needs of Pacific nations – a responsibility that is part of the organisation’s founding convention.

“It is the first time a measure that really looks at the implications and impacts on small island developing states, what those obligations might mean in terms of addressing their needs and their capacity-development requirements and developing, or having, some sort of agreement to develop mechanisms that will support their ability to improve their technical capacity,” Mr Maru said

“With this measure now in place members can start working towards designating ports where they have the capacity to undertake port inspections, develop risk-based analysis to target where their inspection and compliance efforts are focused, at the same time, identify where those gaps are,” she said.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) oversees a more complex international agreement on Port-State measures.

While Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu have signed this agreement Pacific island nations believe it is beyond their current capacity to do so.

Angela Martini EU’s head of delegation for International Relations Officer, European Commission told Pacific reporters on Wednesday that while they consider the FFA proposal as “not as ambitious and strong,” as the FAO port state measure, it is still a step towards the fight against IUU,

“We are ready to support it because we can see it is a first step in the right direction to re-inforce controls in the region and so enhance the fight against IUU fishing,” Martini said.

FFA said there are already SIDS ports with has the capacity to undertake inspection. This measure will lead to more ports conducting inspections and more jobs for Pacific Islanders in fisheries compliance.

“It is definitely a great achievement for the FFA members but also for the partners that we have worked with,” Ms Maru said

“Japan came on board this year and worked collaboratively with and consulted with FFA members as we developed the proposal,” she added.

Palau gets help from new technology to combat illegal fishing

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Microsoft’s Paul Allen, who on a number of occasions has visited Palau and lauded its marine conservation efforts, is pilot testing a new technology that will combat illegal fishing around the island-nation.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. recently announced that Allen will test the new technology in Palau starting in December, and that it will be up and running in 2018.

Allen made the announcement during Our Ocean conference in Malta on October 6.

According to a press statement from Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc. Allen is concerned about illegal fishing depleting global fish populations.

“Vulcan is developing a system that uses satellite imagery and data-analysis software to help countries spot and catch unlicensed fishing boats,” Allen said.

Called SkyLight, the new technology will also be tested in the African nation of Gabon.

Skylight uses technology to aid enforcement, particularly in countries with thousands of miles of coastline to patrol and few resources to do so.

Allen is reportedly spending $40 million to develop the SkyLight system.

SkyLight will input multiple data sources from satellite images, shipping records and information manually collected by officials standing on docks.

It will then use machine-learning software to track and predict which vessels might be operating illegally.

Skylight will contribute to implementing Palau’s monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) plan developed in 2016 with assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

FFA also supports the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2), which funds a MCS coordinator to implement Palau’s MCS plan, and bring together the surveillance activities of the various Palau government agencies.

The MCS coordinator facilitates e-monitoring on fishing vessels operating in the Palau EEZ, which is where SkyLight will be important.

The machine learning capabilities of the SkyLight system is similar to what Vulcan has developed with its Domain Awareness System (DAS) that was developed to stop elephant poaching in Africa.

The solution is expected to be officially available for implementation during the first half of 2018.

“Our oceans produce half the oxygen we breath, 80 percent of life on earth, 16 percent of our planet’s animal protein, and $2.5 trillion in annual commerce.

But illegal fishing is robbing our seas and fueling a crisis of declining fish stocks around the world that not only threatens the global food supply and marine ecosystems, but also destabilizes global economic and national security,” said a statement on the Skylight global website stated.

Palau has declared 80% of its exclusive economic zone as a marine sanctuary and bans all foreign commercial fishing but needs assistance in policing its waters.

In 2016, Palau released a five-year monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) plan to fight illegal activities and manage emergency responses in its waters.

The plan guides Palau’s efforts to build the capacity and expertise to deter, detect, and stop illegal activities in its waters. It aims to protect the nation’s natural resources from illicit fishing and thwart other activities detrimental to its environment and the surrounding international waters.

“If you come to Palau to steal our fish, we will find you and you will be punished,” President Remengesau has earlier said about illegal fishing in Palau.

“To back up these strong words, we are strengthening our surveillance and enforcement system to better protect our ocean resources from poachers.”