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
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
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.
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.