Japan and Taiwan, two of Palau’s most generous allies are in support of the delay of the January 1, 2020 implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), to allow their fishermen to continue access of the nation’s tuna stocks.

The Senate Committee on Resource, Commerce, Trade, and Development sought Japan and Taiwan embassies comments on the proposed bills putting off the implementation of the PNMS law.

According to a written comment by Taiwan Ambassador   Wallace Chow, the Taiwanese fishing operator in Palau conveyed its position that “the full implementation of PNMS can be delayed as long as circumstance permits so that Palau and they can continue to enjoy the benefits of this great partnership.”

For the Taiwan government, Chow said the Palau government’s effort to close its waters to commercial fishing but favors the delay to give time to balance “conservation and economy.”

‘If a great idea like PNMS is difficult to implement amid major economic concerns, it seems wise to let time harmonize contending issues,” Chow wrote to the committee.

The committee report also noted that Japan’s Ambassador Toshiyuki Yamada is backing at least a 10-year delay of the PNMS law to help continue the “stable operations of Japanese fishing vessels.”

He said that allowing the Japanese fishermen’s continued access to the nation’s waters would “contribute to, and even strengthen the bilateral friendship between Japan and Palau.”

The Japan government also has a pending request to allow Okinawa fishermen to continue its fishing operation in Palau beyond 2020.

The Senate has earlier supported that request saying that Palau should reciprocate the generosity of Japan who has been a generous ally of the nation.

Against the bill

The Committee chaired by Sen. Frank Kyota also solicited comments from the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), PNMS Office and local fishermen and the traditional chiefs or Rubekul Belau. These groups all opposed the delay of the PNMS.

Nick Ngwal, Acting Executive Director of the PNMS is against the delay saying the nation cannot abandon its commitment to ocean conservation.

“We cannot fix the problem of decreased tourist arrivals by allowing foreign companies to take fish –the ultimate foundation of our tourism industry –out of Palau, “ he told the committee.

Ngwal said the Senate should not draw the connection between the tourist arrivals and the economics.’

He said in fact, PNMS is “the cornerstone” of Palau’s aim to attract high-value tourists to the country.

Dr. Yimnang Golbuu PICRC, meanwhile, told the committee that the proposed legislation to delay the PNMS would impact the nation’s international recognition as an eco- friendly destination.

“A popular expression comes to mind when I think about postponing the full implementation of the PNMS Act, “Actions speak louder than words.” If we postponed this full implementation, this action will give a signal to the people of Palau, and around the world, that the PNMS is not as important to us as we have claimed it to be,” Golbuu said.

The Rubekul Belau is also not in support of the delay, telling the committee that the PNMS is a major environmental policy that “cannot and shouldn’t be trifled with, even when times are difficult.”

The Friends of PNMS through Elia Yobech is also against the delay.

Yobech told the committee that the move to postpone the PNMS implementation is “not consistent as a solution to the challenges identified by both bills.”

Although Yobech acknowledged the importance of Palau’s relationship to Japan and Taiwan, ‘the nation’s needs must come before the individuals who benefit from this partnership.”

Despite the opposition to the bills, the committee has endorsed the passage of the bill that will delay the implementation to five years “in light of the current economic conditions related to a decrease in tourist numbers.”

The Senate said it would pass the measure despite the unlikely support from the House and President Tommy Remengesau Jr.

The two bills introduced last year highlighted that the lower number of tourists visiting Palau affected the revenues from the Environmental Impact Fee.

Every visitor coming to Palau pays a $100 environmental fee. The environmental fee is the primary financing mechanism for the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

One measure calls for a 10-year delay in the implementation while another bill asked for a delay of five years.

Both bills took into account the declining tourism numbers affecting Palau’s economy.

Once the PNMS law takes effect, commercial fishing on over 500,000 square kilometers or 80 percent of its maritime waters will be prohibited.

The remaining 20 percent of Palau’s seas will be reserved for domestic fishing. (Bernadette H. Carreon)