By Bernadette H. Carreon

Eating fewer reef fish has been shown as critical for the sustainable development of Palau, says a new marine policy study of Palau’s ocean.

“A meaningful tourism management policy requires reductions in fish consumption by both resident Palauans and visitors”, says the study, conducted by the Nippon Foundation-UBC Nereus Program.

“Palau’s reefs and the fish communities they host are incredibly beautiful and recognized worldwide as a top diving destination,” says lead author Colette Wabnitz (University of British Columbia).

“Tourist numbers can reach nine times the local population, and most come to enjoy the ocean. This puts enormous pressure on local marine resources that are central to local communities’ culture and livelihoods.”

The study further showed that overall best practices for tourism and fisheries management in Palau include both current government proposals and a concurrent decrease in reef fish consumption.

It noted that health of reefs can be maintained by “shifting seafood consumption to open water fish, such as sustainably-harvested tuna, instead of reef fishes such as grouper, snapper, and parrotfish.”

The reef consumption, the study says, will further worsen if lax environmental guidelines continue. It says that the management focus should not only be about the dive impacts but the consumption of reef fish as well, which will impact the health of the ocean.

According to a press release from the foundation, this is the first study about the effects of eating reef fish on the ocean.

This study will go hand in hand with the current proposal of developing an offshore national fishery as part of the recently designated National Marine Sanctuary.

“The ocean is central to Palau’s life and customs; their seafood consumption must be maintained sustainably,” says co-author Yoshitaka Ota (University of Washington).

“The most important thing is for the people of Palau to keep engaging with the ocean, eating good fish, catching fish sustainably and protecting their way of life – tekoi ra belau, as they say in Palau. We are hoping that this study will be used for current Pacific Island Nation policy to address what they can do right now, and for the future.”