There are many reasons why I know now that I will never forget Palau in case, who knows what or when, the winds will bring me to another place someday.

And that would be because it is the first place I visited outside my country, where I first drove a car, and of course, this is also where I first saw the biggest fish in my life so far. No wonder about that last fact though, Palauans are known to be naturally protective of their environment and the marine life.

Last March 31, I was invited to cover a Fishing Derby where I had the chance to see the biggest Blue Marlin fish I had ever seen in my life. Although the fish was not part of the game, still it came out as quite a remarkable memory for me as I do not often see big fishes from where I come from.

In the Philippines, it is not everywhere where you can hear that a Fishing Derby is conducted. However, a “Sabong” (Cockfight Derby) is very common in almost all parts of my country. That is why when I heard about the event, it immediately caught my attention.

The Ebiil Society, a non-government organization in Palau that is promoting conservation and sustainable fishery practices, has launched the Fishing Derby for the purpose of educating fishermen on sustainable fishing practices while at the same time, making them enjoy the process.

Through the aid of various sponsors such as the The Nature Conservancy, Phillip Reklai & Associates (PRA), Surangel & Sons Co., Mingles so Thai, Kuniyoshi Fishing Co., Kuniyoshi Fishing Market, Tour Extreme, Senator Regis Akitaya, Team Ou-flip (Melvin, Lyman, Hadley & Dims), Ryan Mikel, and Shaft Katosang and volunteers Sachi Singeo, Surech Bells Hideyos, and Techereng B. Demei, the Ebiil Society had managed to pull off a successful Fishing Derby event.

Fifteen boats operated by team participants move around the sea zone where fishing is not prohibited, guided by game rules specially drafted to make sure that they follow all national and state conservation laws.

Ebiil Society Director Ann Singeo said in an interview that the objective of the game is to have fishermen start thinking about how to participate in the Tuna fishery industry when foreign fishing companies leave Palau by 2020.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. previously signed into law the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act in October 28, 2015 to push for conservation initiatives to protect the country’s marine resources. The law gives a five-year transition period, which means that by 2020, 80 percent of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) will be part of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, leaving the remaining 20% of it reserved for traditional fishing and fishing operations that are serving only Palau’s domestic and tourism needs.

“The whole point of the game is really trying to educate fishermen to think about alternative fisheries so that when, if it is for commercial purposes, for the restaurants, for tourism, they could target Pelagic fish because they are more sustainable,” Singeo said.

Singeo explained that according to fisheries studies, Pelagic fish like tuna are more resilient and they spawn aggressively compare to the reef fish.

“They (pelagic fishes) spawn aggressively and the growth is also much quicker…like between two to three years they’ve all reached adult state compare to the coral reef fish that could take anywhere from 10-15 or 20 years,” Singeo said.

Singeo explained that by targeting Pelagic fish for commercial, restaurant, and tourism purposes, coastal fishes will be given a break to revive itself.

As I pondered about the essence of the game, I realized that what the Ebiil society and their partner agencies are doing is indeed a good way to make the local fishers be educated on sustainable fishing practices…and that for me is indeed, a good and fair game. (Rhealyn C. Pojas/Reporter)