Photo from International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF)/Fabien Forget

The bill to ban export of all reef fish and inshore marine species was signed into law this week by President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., and now a Republic of Palau Public Law (RPPL 10-54.)

The law, previously a Senate bill, banned export of any reef fish or marine resource that primarily inhabit reef areas, territorial sea or internal waters of Palau.  The law however allowed for export of farmed fish or products of aquaculture industry.

“I am sure that almost every Palauan has mixed feelings about banning the export of reef fish.  I, like most people I know, have grown to love and appreciate the practice of bringing reef fish to my family abroad, giving them a taste of Palau while they are living far away.  Unfortunately, this practice has grown year by year and we must now face up to a harsh reality.  That reality is that last year alone we exported almost 230,000 lbs. of reef fish from Palau.  Of that, only 17,000 lb. were declared as “commercial export”.  More than 200,000 lbs. of parrotfish, rabbitfish, snapper and um were exported for “personal consumption” stated President Remengesau on signing of the bill into law.

Dr. Yimnang Golbuu of the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), a marine research institute in Palau, said he was pleased to witness the signing of law that is based on information derived from data and science.

Based on a study conducted by PICRC that looked at sustainable fisheries and healthy coral reefs in 2017 covering six different reef habitats in 94 sites in Palau, it showed that 83% of the sites were overexploited with spawning potential ratio of certain fish species such as keremlal, mesekelat, mellemau, reked and bekerkard el tiau below 20%.  Species of fish with better spawning potential higher than 20%, were chesengel, cherangel and ngiaoch.

Study also showed that fish biomass varies from site to site.  “Results from this study clearly shows the result of past overfishing, but the good news is that studies in Northern Reefs before and after they implemented management measures, suggest that fish populations are no longer declining. The passage of the new law to ban export of all reef fishes will contribute significantly to these local efforts to recover our fish populations and ensure sustainability for future generations,” added Dr. Golbuu.