A push to delay the final ban on commercial fishing within 80% of Palau’s exclusive economic zone for another 10 years is getting a push back from the administration.

Palau National Marine Sanctuary law mandates that all commercial fishing within 80% of Palau’s EEZ will stop by year 2020.

President Remengesau says the bills are “inappropriate” and that he will not sign them should they come to him.

Two separate bills were introduced in the Senate last month seeking to postpone the implementation of complete ban on commercial fishing from 2020 to 2030.

The bills cite downturn in tourist arrivals, drop in fishing rights fees to the States and low revenue from Environmental Impact Fees as reason to delay the ban on commercial fishing, this in order to gain “additional revenue from the commercial fishing sector to help support the economy.”

Senate Bill 10-42 introduced by Senator Rukebai Inabo seeks to delay the implementation of fishing ban until 2030 and increase the fish export tax.  The bill will extend the licenses of long-liners and purse-seiners that were licensed in 2014 to 2030 with gradual reduction in number of vessel days in Palau waters.

SB 10-43, introduced by Senator Mariur, Rudimch, Skebong, Kuartei and Nakamura seeks to delay ban until 2025, also giving those long-liners and purse-seiners that received licenses in 2014 extension with gradual decline in fishing days as well.

Both Senate bills cite drop in tourism arrivals from 2015 to 2017 and the IMF projection of Palau’s economic decline in FY 2017 as reasons to allow commercial fishing to continue.

Nick Ngwal, Acting Director of Palau Marine Sanctuary called the attempts short-sighted and benefits minimal compared to “incredible economic benefits of the PNMS”.

In response to Senator Frank Kyota, Chairman of Senate Committee on Resources, Commerce, Trade and Development, he expressed his opposition to the bills attempt to draw connection between “foreign commercial fishing interests and our “recent economic downturn”, in a letter to.

“Abandoning our keystone commitment to ocean protection will not fix the decrease in tourist arrivals – it may make it much worse,” he said.

Downturn in tourists arrivals is due to geopolitics as well as Palau’s decision to cut down on number of charter flights from China in order to have a sustainable tourism industry, stated the letter from PNMS office. Furthermore, arrivals were affected when Delta which carried 50% of visitors from Japan pulled out of Micronesia entirely.

“Transition from quantity to quality tourism is not something that is happening to us but it is something we are doing to protect ourselves,” added Ngwal.

Seeking solutions to Palau’s economy during the transition to high value tourism by allowing foreign companies to take fish out of Palau, will not help the tourism industry or Palauans.

Saying decline in Environmental Impact Fee is hurting the States is erroneous according to Ngwal. States were not receiving EIF before but they were included as recipients of Pristine Paradise Environmental Fund (PPEF) under PNMS law.  PPEF was just implemented this year.  Based on FY 2018 4th quarter financial report from Bureau of National Treasury, the States’ share of PPEF collected this FY 2018  was $580,960.

President Remengesau in response to the proposals expressed disbelief that Senate would propose such bills.  He added that Senators have passed number of laws in support of this policy.

“Palau National Marine Sanctuary has brought over $100 million dollars to Palau since it was enacted.  We have received new patrol boats, new marine law building, wharf, fuel to operate for 10 years, money to pay salaries for Palauan officers for 10 years from Sasakawa and Nippon Foundation, altogether valued at over $70 million dollars.  We have received funds and technical support from US, Taiwan, Australia, Italy as well as PEW Charitable Trust, Pacific Forum Agencies, and many others because they believe as we do about our oceans,” added Remengesau.

“We have received this incredible support in recognition of our firm commitment to establish, maintain and enforce PNMS for our children and our grandchildren.  If we walk back on that commitment at the first opportunity, we cannot expect this same level of generousity next time,” urged PNMS Acting Director.

“No matter how high you raise fish export taxes, they cannot replace the benefits of these international partnerships.  As a simple example, the value of the PNMS patrol boat project ….was $70 million.  This single PNMS partnership was worth more than 2.5 times the 7-year total of all fishing fees collected from 2011 to 2017.”

“Reducing our fish stocks and our reputation may damage our visitor industry even further,” warned Ngwal. (L.N. Reklai)