Although President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has made known his position against any delay to the implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), the Senate Committee on Resources, Commerce, Trade and Development (RCTD) will still push one of the proposed bill that will extend the transition period of the marine sanctuary to another five years.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sen. Frank Kyota, chair of the Senate Committee said it will endorse the bill that seeks a delay of the PNMS implementation to 2025 instead of 2020, despite the possibility that it will gain any support from the president.

Kyota said extending the wind-down period would allow the country to recover from the tourism slump and increase revenues from the Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee (PPEF). The fee is supposed to replace the income that will be lost from closing Palau’s water to commercial fishing.

However, President Remengesau said revenues that will be earned from PPEF and the Parties of Nauru Agreement’s (PNA) Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) are bigger than the income it could earn from licensing of commercial fishing in Palau.

“So it’s not so much an emergency impact if there will be no fishing because the money we receive from licensing through fishing days is a small amount compared to what we get from PPEF and also from what we receive from PNA, “ Remengesau told reporters in a press conference last week.

Based on the Ministry of Finance Financial report for the fourth quarter of 2018, Palau earned $8.4 million from fishing days under the PNA’s VDS while it earned only. $767, 417 from fish exports. Revenues collected from PPEF amounted to  $1,034,775.

The PPEF is the primary financing mechanism for the PNMS. Enacted in October 2015, the law will be fully implemented starting January 1, 2020.  Under the law, Palau set aside 500,000 square kilometers or 80 percent of its maritime waters for full protection with the rest set aside as domestic fishing zone.

With less than a year before its enforced, the president dismisses any attempt to delay the implementation stressing that would maintain the integrity of PNMS.

However, Kyota said the Senate is worried that revenues that Palau is currently getting from fishing licenses and fishing days will further be diminished, citing the country’s economic frailty.

Kyota said the Senate is not  ‘destroying the PNMS,”  with a push to delay the implementation but extending the wind-down period will give Palau time to recover from the tourism slump.

He noted that although he expects that the president will reject the bill, the Senate wants to be on record that it has tried to save the PNMS from losing revenues due to the tourism slowdown.

Revenue loss

In a January 11 letter to Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism Minister Umiich Sengebau, Kyota’s committee raised concerns that revenues from the VDS will decrease as well when the PNMS is fully implemented.

The committee said “since our economic frailty is an urgent matter,” the Senate needs to act on the proposed bill expeditiously.

Sengebau in response to the committee’s concerns said there are locally-based fishing companies that are looking into the options of maintaining operations beyond the full implementation of the PNMS, such as fishing outside of Palau’s waters or at the high seas and offloading their catch here.

The minister also clarified that Palau can continue to earn money from the VDS through directly selling its vessel days directly to companies and any surplus days can be traded to another PNA member country.

The VDS sets an overall Total Allowable Effort (TAE) limit on the number of days fishing vessels can be licensed to fish in PNA Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) per year. Each country is allocated a share of the TAE for use in its zone each year.

These VDS days can be traded between countries in cases where a country has used up all its days while another has spare days.

The minimum benchmark for a vessel day fee for purse seiners is at $8,000. (Bernadette H. Carreon)