HONIARA, 24 October 2019 – Pacific Community (SPC) fisheries scientist Sam McKechnie says SPC’s research shows an easterly move for skipjack and yellowfin tuna species in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean that will be clear by 2050 and pronounced by 2100.
According to a September 2018 SPC report, the prediction is driven by the degradation of fish spawning habitats due to higher ocean temperatures.
McKechnie presented current projections of the impacts of climate change on tuna movement during the 7th Global Environment Facility Steering Committee last month.
Part of SPC’s climate modelling focuses on the effects of climate change on bycatch species such as sharks, seabirds and turtles. While not of commercial interest, these animals are immensely important for ecological diversity and food security.
McKechnie said that the SPC research optimistically shows that some species, like the yellowtail kingfish, may be able to adapt to predicted changes. This capacity occurs when there is higher genetic diversity in a species and it is able to thrive in warming waters. Yellowtail kingfish can be bred easily in captivity, making it an excellent test subject for studying the impacts of climate change on large species that live in the open ocean.
Management of fish stocks in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific countries and on the high seas depends on understanding current stock levels. It also depends on estimating catch levels so that Pacific countries can capitalise on the fisheries economically and socially, while maintaining sustainable limits. Programs developed by SPC, for example TUFMAN 2, support rigorous documenting on vessels to ensure accurate catch reporting.
“There’s a big update coming in the next couple months that will be rolled out,” McKechnie said.
“TUFMAN has been extremely valuable for us and there’s more components that have been added recently […] that will hopefully increase the value of the data and that there will be less mistakes.
“The better this interface gets, the easier it is to validate.”
Eugene Pangelinan, the Executive Director of the National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA), thanked SPC for support in this area, as electronic reporting is a priority for the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
“We have been pushing forward on implementing the electronic monitoring on all our commercial fisheries, foreign and domestic, by 2023,” he said.
Fisheries representatives from Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji and FSM expressed appreciation for the SPC’s work in data collection and regional training workshops during Tuesday’s meeting.
Members said these activities, supported through the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2), have informed decision-making and improved electronic monitoring.
Taiwan and Palau signed a coast guard cooperation agreement to help police the island nation’s conservation area and fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and maritime crimes.
During the state banquet, March 22, hosted by
the Palau government for President Tsai Ing-wen and her delegation, Taiwan
announced that in line with the agreement, it is gifting the island nation with a patrol boat to help
stem maritime crime.
President Tommy Remengesau Jr. thanked Taiwan for continuing to be a “staunch partner” of Palau as it prepares to prohibit a huge part of its exclusive economic zone to commercial fishing by January 1, 2020.
“Tonight sees the handover of one of the most
visible forms of this partnership through the new patrol boat for our coast
guard. As our friends from Taiwan know all too well, as island states, securing
our ocean spaces is vital to allow our respective national projects to flourish,”
Vice President Raynold Oilouch and Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu signed the agreement. Foreign Minister Wu also presented two miniature model patrol boats to Vice President Oilouch as a gift.
President Tsai praised Palau as a tourist
destination and vowed Taiwan would continue to work with the country in various
fields including marine conservation.
Tsai said Palau and Taiwan’s relationship: “show that oceans do not separate us, but bind us together.”
Under the agreement, Taiwan and Palau “agree to seek feasibility of cooperation in the following: exchange of personnel visiting; exchange of personnel for training; Maritime Search and Rescue; Fisheries Law enforcement; and cooperation in combating transnational crime.”
Taiwan has also donated a total of $1 million
to the marine sanctuary fund, a pledge it made in 2015 when the legislation was
Remengesau said the new patrol boat: “will augment our marine capabilities, strengthen our security, and be a vital tool in ensuring that the Sanctuary contributes to our sustainable development.”
students currently on scholarships at the Taiwan Naval Academy would join the
patrol boat crew when it’s officially delivered, Remengesau said
Taiwanese naval patrol frigate Hsun Hu No. 7 took part in joint exercises with Palau’s
Coast Guard on March 23.
By January 1, 2020, Palau is prohibiting
all commercial fishing in 80 percent of its EEZ while 20 percent will be
designated as domestic fishing zone to improve the nation’s food security.
Fishing nations that largely conduct
commercial fishing in Palau are from Japan and Taiwan.
The Taiwan Embassy here said that presently
Taiwan has 42 fishing boats operating in Palau waters which provide an “annual contribution
to fishing related incomes in Palau exceeds USD 6.9 million.”
future operations will be affected by the coming implementation of PNMS in 2020,” it stated.
Taiwan embassy said it supports the implementation of the marine sanctuary, it
hopes to “bridge a solution that can be accepted by both the ROP Government and
Taiwan fishing operators.”
The embassy said Taiwan fishing operators wish to continue fishing in Palau waters, and “unload their catch in Palau; and Palau can continue to enjoy the economic benefits.”
In 2000, marine protected areas covered just 0.7 percent of the world’s oceans. Today 6.4 percent of the oceans are protected – about 9 million square miles. In 2010, 196 countries set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.
Our research seeks to inform conservation policies that are effective, equitable and socially just. In our new study of established or proposed large marine protected areas in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Palau, Kiribati and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, we show that efforts to protect even remote sites can generate important outcomes for local residents that they may view as positive or negative. They can increase national pride and political leverage for indigenous populations, for example. They can also complicate international conservation negotiations or cause broad shifts in national economies.
Here we discuss the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest, which was created in 2015. This sanctuary illustrates how large-scale ocean conservation has the potential to produce important social benefits.
Palau is a small nation spread across several hundred islands in the western Pacific. As with many Pacific Island nations, Palau’s offshore tuna fishery is dominated by foreign vessels. Most of the revenues and fish that it produces are exported overseas. Only a small portion of the lowest-graded tuna makes it to Palau’s domestic market. At the same time, demand for seafood from Palau’s growing tourist industry is stressing other fish species in nearshore reefs.
As part of a sweeping conservation and development vision, the sanctuary designates 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (defined in international law as waters extending from 12 up to 200 miles off its coastlines) as a no-take reserve, and the rest as a domestic fishing zone. Virtually all of the fish caught in this zone must be sold in Palau. Fishing in the no-take reserve will decline incrementally and end by 2020. Palau’s territorial, or coastal, waters lie outside the sanctuary boundaries, but are protected by other policies like the Protected Areas Network.
This design seeks to protect marine species by eliminating foreign commercial fishing in most of Palau’s waters, while developing a domestic fishing industry that supplies local markets with large open-ocean species like tuna. By shifting more consumption to these fish, it aims to reduce pressure on reef fisheries near shore. And by spotlighting these actions as part of a shift toward high-end tourism, it seeks to promote sustainable economic development.
As Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. summarized, “The true purpose of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is to protect our resources for our people.”
Translating these goals into action has triggered social changes within Palau. Sanctuary managers and nongovernment organizations are raising funds to provide more local fishermen with the midrange fishing vessels and capacity they need to access fish in the offshore domestic fishing zone. Many local fishermen are eager for this new livelihood source.
Palau’s government has drafted legislation and developed marketing campaigns that feature Palau’s conservation commitments. It is also increasing visitor fees and asking tourists to sign a Palau Pledge upon arrival, in which they promise to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible way during their stay.
While critics argue this strategy will do more for “rich tourists” than for conservation, we believe such assessments are premature. The goal is to limit the number of toilets flushing, divers on reefs and reef fish being eaten, while increasing revenue through higher returns from fewer visitors.
Importantly, we have seen no evidence that these changes will restrict local residents’ access to the spaces and resources they currently use. The domestic fishing zone is designed to give Palauans more access to fish in their waters. And Palau’s leaders have historically protected local access to the 445 Rock Islands – the primary destination for visitors – by designating only a small number for tourist use.
Linking offshore ocean protection to tradition
The marine sanctuary is also changing the way in which many Palauans relate to offshore ocean space. Palau’s council of highest ranking traditional leaders has enacted a customary law called a “bul” to protect the sanctuary through traditional protocols. A bul is conventionally used on land or in nearshore marine areas.
A member of Palau’s Council of Chiefs, which advises the president, told us that this is the first time traditional leaders have issued a bul in an offshore ocean area. This move has been controversial, but according to many of our interviewees, it grants the sanctuary a culturally important seal of approval and embeds offshore conservation within traditional knowledge and governance systems.
Of course, not all Palauans support the sanctuary. Some think the domestic fishing zone is too small, while others question how much protection the sanctuary actually offers for highly migratory open-ocean fish. Still others worry about possible lost fishing revenue or the impact of increasing visitor fees.
Future research should examine how these social changes unfold. So far, the evidence suggests that Palau’s sanctuary has potential to deliver both conservation and development gains.
Defining a new field
Palau’s sanctuary is one example of a new global phenomenon. But the race to create large ocean parks has outpaced science. Managers, along with biophysical and social scientists, are scrambling to answer questions about how well they work and who they benefit or harm.
Decades of research on smaller marine protected areas shows that they have to meet both biological and social goals to succeed. Now, more researchers are examining human dimensions across a number of large marine protected areas. Scientists can inform these conservation efforts by weighing evidence carefully in assessing how and why large ocean parks matter for people as well as for sea life.