Fisheries could be a driver of sustainable development in the absence of tourists, according to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA)- a body representing Palau and the eight other Pacific states rich in tropical tuna.

PNA Chief Executive Officer Ludwig Kumoru told Pacific reporters on Tuesday that because COVID-19 has not really made a significant dent in the fisheries sector, it will be a good industry for Palau’s to shift its focus on.

“You saw from the report that was sent around, COVID-19 really has not had an impact on the fishing, especially on purse seine days as catch rates are still high,” Mr. Kumoru said referring to a report prepared for the PNA by Brisbane-based resources consultancy MRAG Asia Pacific.

“So, I think it depends on what a country thinks, and their leaders think. But I think it would be a good opportunity to make up for the losses incurred with the downturn of tourism,’ he said.

While COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on longline fishing due to a slump in sales for sashimi, the MRAG report showed that larger the purse seine fleet has been little affected. Port closures “have not resulted in a widespread decline in fishing efforts,” the report’s authors said.

The PNA states – which include Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands Tuvalu, and Tokelau – sell fishing days under the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), generating revenues approaching $500 million annually for participating countries.

From the VDS, Palau averages at least $8 million annually, regardless of fishing effort and despite the closure of a big percentage of its Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) to commercial fishing.

The PNA has said the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) is in line with the body’s mission, which is sustainable management of the region’s tuna stocks.
Hugh Walton a technical adviser to the Forum Fisheries Agency also sees fisheries as an important alternative to tourism.

When an economy dries up due to a tourism downturn, tuna can become a key component to nutrition and food security Mr. Walton said.

“Looking at Fiji for example, as one of the countries that have very high levels of tourism, and Palau, all that tourism has just dried up and the income has dried up with it.

“So there are a lot of people who are hurting financially. And access to protein is an important part of survival. So we need to make sure we keep on producing the fish in a sustainable way,” he said.

Mr. Walton said the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been resounding and significant on employment and income generation.

“Food security and access to protein become increasingly important,” he said
Because people need to eat, the fisheries industry will continue to be important and should be the forefront of Pacific Island economies, he concluded.

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