Taking into consideration ‘the years of support Japan has provided to our government,” senators are backing the wishes of the  small scale fishermen in Okinawa, to continue fishing in Palau waters even after the implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary beyond 2020.

During the first day of the regular session of the Senate on January 8, Senate Joint Resolution 10-45 was adopted by majority of the senators. The resolution supports the Government of Japan’s request to allow vessels to continue its commercial fishing operation in Palau’s Exclusive Economic  Zone (EEZ).

The Senate Committee on Resources, Commerce , Trade and Development in its panel report stated that Japan has assisted Palau in various infrastructure development and capacity building that it should “reciprocate” by allowing should accorded with “fishing rights.”

In December at  the sidelines of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)  in Honolulu, Hawaii, Japan’s Head of  Delegation Shingo Ota, said several fishermen from Okinawa will lose their livelihood after Palau’s waters is closed to commercial fishing.

“If Palau is going to close the area those vessels have nowhere to go, “ Ota said.

He said one option they are looking is for the fishermen to be allowed    to fish for “research purposes.”

Ota said the the Okinawa fishermen rely on Palau waters to catch skipjack.

“They have been dependent on the same fishing ground for many years and it’s very difficult for them to find alternative fishing grounds because they are accustomed to the Palau EEZ and maybe (it’s) easy for them to find fish,” Ota told reporters last week.

Ota said the  closure will impact the Okinawa fleet or  what he described as 20 small-scale longliners.

Ota said Palau’s fishing grounds are closest to Okinawa.

He told reporters that Japan is in talks with Palau but said refused to go into details about the request.

Ota  added  the affected  vessels  catch no more than 20 tonnes compared to the large scale which is usually 400 tons.

When Palau closes 80 percent of  Exclusive Economic Zone, no fishing or mining will be allowed.

A dedicated 20 per cent of the EEZ will be accessible to domestic fishing fleets. But the domestic fishing zone according to the law is reserved for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports.

Remengesau on Dec. 19 confirmed to reporters that there is a request pending from Japan and he did not discount the possibility of heeding Japan’s proposal, instead he said that although the talks are still ongoing, he said that 20 percent of Palau’s waters  is open as a fishing zone after 2020.   (Bernadette H. Carreon)