First row, left to right: Health Minister Emais Robert, President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., and Education Minister Sinton Soalablai. Second row, from left to right: Palau National Marine Sanctuary Outreach Community Education Officer Elsie Tellei,Palau Conservation Society (PCS) Fisheries Coordinator Fabio Siksei, Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET) Fisheries Scientist Vanessa Jaith, and The Nature Conservancy Fisheries Coordinator Yvonne Ueda. In the photo, Remengesau signs the directive ordering all government offices to choose pelagic when serving fish in a function.

Your food preferences could mean a big difference towards environment conservation and food security – at least that is the message of the new campaign called “Choose Pelagics” that Palau is taking the lead on.

The Choose Pelagics campaign, which was started by the Palau Conservation Society (PCS) last year, is a measure currently undertaken by both non-government and government agencies to diminish pressure on reef fish by promoting the development of a sustainable domestic pelagic fishery.

It has been noted, according to studies, that Palau’s reef fish stocks have declined over the last decades and will continue to see decline as the demand for it from both locals and tourists is increasing. This began the many cross-sectoral efforts undertaken to resolve the problem, among them is the Choose Pelagics campaign.

The campaign revolves around the concept that reef fish are not so well equipped to deal with fishing pressures compare to pelagic fish. This means that if there is more preference and demand for pelagic fish, then the pressure on reef fish will be diminished, hence allowing it to revive its population. Pelagic fish have been known for its ability to spawn aggressively and grow quicker compared to reef fish, making the former a sustainable option compare to the latter.

Now, the Choose Pelagics campaign has been adopted as one of the components of the country’s popular signature policy – the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS, in which 80% of the country’s exclusive economic zone will be closed down to fishing while the remaining 20% will solely be designated for domestic fishing by 2020.

The Nature Conservancy Fisheries Coordinator Yvonne Ueda told Island Times in an interview that historically, Palauans have always had high preferences for reef fish and they are now working on how to build preferences for pelagic fish by connecting to several government agencies who had food services.

Ueda said that with the human population growing, the pressure or demand for reef fish is also increasing.

“We need to make some sort of social change…to reduce this pressure,” Ueda said, adding that they are working now with the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Health (MOH), and the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs (MCCA), the Palau Community College (PCC), and the Palau Community Action Agency (PCAA)in helping raise awareness and preferences for pelagic fish.  

“It’s a bigger vision and a dream that in the future we’ll have more people that will prefer pelagic over reef fish, and our fishermen will be pelagic fishers than reef fishers,” Ueda said.

Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. has also shown support for the campaign by signing Wednesday, May 1, an executive directive that mandates all government or quasi-government events and functions serving fish to always choose pelagic fish.

“Reef fish should not be served at any government event or in any government food service system unless there are no locally-sourced pelagic fish available,” the directive read.

Meanwhile, Ueda said that the recently signed executive directive also aims to provide a consistent market for the local pelagic fishers. This also wants to eliminate potential competition between local fishermen and big fishing companies, that too often put the former at a disadvantage position.

“We realize that every time they (big companies) offload, they can potentially flood the market and the local fishers lose out because it makes it harder for them to sell their fish,” Ueda said.

Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism (MNRET) Fisheries Scientist Vanessa Jaith said in the same interview that through the executive directive, they hope to get more support from the tourist market and the local population as well. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)