President Tommy E. Remengesau spoke to the National Environment Symposium (NES) this past Tuesday on a theme which prevailed throughout the conference: that marine conservationism and economic sustainability go hand-in-hand.
In support of the marine protected areas in Palau and the other fishing restrictions, the President referenced “bul”, the traditional moratorium on fishing during times of scarcity.
“Bul is not for the fish,” the President said. “It is for making sure people survive.”
The NES, held at the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center, centered on resilience in Palau and opportunities to strengthen local business, food security, and environmental safety.
The government has come under criticism that marine protected areas as well as other restrictions on fishing in Palau are saving fish at the expense of fishermen. Many critics of the government believe that it is more interested in creating an image of a pristine environment to bolster tourism than in people’s livelihoods.
President Remengesau countered this by referencing the “wisdom of the ancestors” in closing off certain marine areas in order to replenish those which are open and create a sustainable population of fish.
“Right now, the fish are smaller in size, and the fish are not as many as they used to be; that’s the reality,” he said. “How can you be resilient if you have nothing to protect?”
The Symposium included a variety of speakers such as entrepreneur and environmental activist MielSequiera-Holm, who stressed the need for Palauans to develop locally-owned goods and services while remaining environmentally conscious.
Another speaker at the Symposium, Erik Vereen, the founder of Island Seed Ltd., has developed a practical way to apply this conservationism while still making profits.
Mr. Vereen runs a boat charter and tour company which specializes in fishing. However, his company stands out from others in that it concentrates on “catch and release” fishing, in which customers catch impressively-sized fish, take pictures with them, and release them back into the ocean. This way, the company is not making a profit by plundering Palau’s marine resources, but is able to showcase the marine life and make money while sustaining fish stocks.
“What I found is that the dream of catching a fish is more profitable than catching one and selling it in the market,” he said. “It’s all about the bragging rights.”
He explained that, now that there are no tourists coming into Palau, he is supporting himself by fishing for local consumption. However, he sticking to catching pelagic fish, rather than placing stress on much more endangered reef fish.
Other talks at the NES centered on how to promote food security, energy security, and tourism while remaining environmentally friendly.

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