Palau International Traders Corporation (PITI), which has been operating in Palau for years is blaming the newly implemented Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) for forcing the company to temporarily suspend its fishing activities and lay off workers.

In a press statement PITI said that the PNMS has reduced the size of the area where they are allowed to fish and that increase in fish exports made it “not financially viable” for PITI to remain operating in Palau.

“It is with much regret and sadness that PITI has been forced to take this action.” The statement said.

PITI said it has started laying off most of its workers and suspended operations “effective immediately.”

The company said by February 1, more staff will lose their jobs except for

The PNMS took effect on January 1, 2020. “skeleton staff” of PITI.

PITI said that it has been in Palau since 1984 when it purchased the Van Camp fishing plant. It claimed that it has contributed millions of dollars to the Palau economy since it began operating more than 35 years ago.

PITI said it would continue operating in Palau if circumstances of the ONMS law changes.

“PITI regrets that the businesses and people who have been depending on PITI to provide ice and tuna will no longer be able to source those items from PITI.”

Several restaurants in Palau have not been offering tuna options in their menu, some saying its because there has been no tuna available since the New Year.

PITI was reportedly supplying a big chunk of the domestic market needs before the PNMS was implemented.

Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism Umiich Sengebau said PITI’s decision not to continue is the company’s choice but said other fishing companies such as KFC and Palau Tuna will continue operating in the country.

He said KFC and Palau Tuna would be signing a new agreement with Palau soon to fish in the domestic fishing zone (DFZ).

Sengebau also downplayed reports that there is hardly any tuna in the domestic market.

He said on Chinese New Year holidays, commercial fishing vessels usually take time off from fishing.

According to Palau National Marine Sanctuary-Socioeconomic Baseline Project report in 2019 conducted by Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and University of Hawaii, 95 percent of the catch from PITI-and KFC-contracted boats is “exported to Japan upon landing in Koror.”  Most of the discards, or portion of the catch that is of too low quality to export is sold or donated in the domestic market.

The report further noted that is estimated that 165-284 metric tons of pelagic fish and 865 metric of reef fish enters the local market annually. A big number of   pelagic fish caught in Palau’s waters are consumed outside of Palau.

PITI said that it is hoping that the PNMS will be “revisited” to allow it to operate anew in Palau. (Bernadette H. Carreon)