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.