Photo Credit: Christina Hepburn

President Tommy Remengesau said he will rely on scientific evidence before he makes a decision on a proposed bill that will allow for a two -month fishing season for adult Napoleon Wrasse and adult Bumphead Parrot Fish for personal consumption.

He also told local reporters on Wednesday that while he recognizes the cultural significance of the fish, he wants to make sure that the law has enough teeth to prevent overfishing of the highly valued stocks.

“Open season without adequate monitoring and enforcement is really more than two months. We can harvest devastating numbers in just two months if there is no real mechanism in force,” Remengesau said.

The president said there are various factors to be considered before he signed off on the bill.

“ I am not a scientist, I would like that decision to be made by the scientific community,” he added.

He said a clear decision should be made “not because of how we feel but how the science should be.”

The president said he would discuss the matter with the Olbiil Era Kelulau leaders so they can all “do the right thing.”

In a press statement, Senate wants to reassure the public that the legislation now before the president, “strikes a balance between both the expert scientific advice of our now internationally recognized researchers and scientists without compromising the traditional best practices of the bul to both conserve, provide food security for the people and maintain cultural benefits.”

In an interview, Senator Kerai Mariur said the bill’s passage was based on the request of the fishermen who say that the species are already in healthy stocks.

Mariur said the bill is also an affirmation of the Mechesil Belau Resolution No. 24-13-17 to provide for an open season for kemedukl and maml.

He said it’s now time to look at the needs of the people.

“Ban the fish in certain areas where the fish spawn …I thinks that’s the idea because that’s how all the states became with the idea of protection. But to completely ban it we need to look at the needs of the people,’ he said.

The Senate said the bill is backed by Palau International Coral Reef Center research that the stocks are healthy enough, that opening fishing for two months will not gravely impact the population.

While Congress pushes the bill to be signed, a petition urging the president  to reject the bill, started by Canadian diver Christina Hepburn, has already garnered nearly  4,000 signatures as of 6 p.m. Feb, 13.

The Office of the President has also received over 100 emails and letters asking the president to ensure that fishing of the Napoleon Wrasse and Humphead Parrotfish remains closed.

One of those against the open season is fisheries scientist  Dr. Yvonne Sadovy of the University of Hong Kong.

In a letter to the president, Dr. Sadovy said, “there is no scientific justification to create an open season for these species.”

“Based on what is known of the reproductive potential of these two species (from multiple publications) and the sporadic recruitment patterns, any opening of their fisheries will quickly deplete their populations and undo years of protection which has allowed these species to move towards recovery in Palau. This recovery is something that Palau can be proud of,” she said.

Sadovy who is a scientist working for 25 years in Hong Kong on reef fishes and their fisheries and co-founder of the IUCN Groupers & Wrasses Specialist Group that covers these species (since 1998), said, while she supports traditional and customary use if the fish populations are in good conditions, she has doubts on the science used to justify an open season.