“There is enough available data now to do a marine spatial planning,” stated Senator Umiich Sengebau, also a former Minister of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism (MNRET), the ministry that was renamed the Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture & Environment (MAFE) 

“Marine spatial planning is like land use planning where we layer different information on top of each other to get the full picture and then make decisions based on that information.  We have all that information available, mapping from PALARIS, tuna data from various studies, and data collected from fishing boats before PNMS.  There’s enough data now for a marine spatial planning that if they want, they can do it,” added Senator Sengebau.

The FY 2022 Supplemental budget that passed the House of Delegates last week had a rider to amend the current PNMS law, moving the management of the PNMS to MAFE and giving the Minister of MAFE the power to authorize “experimental fishing” activity within the 80% No-Take Zone of the PNMS for marine spatial planning purposes.

Senator Sengebau questions the need to allow fishing activities within the 80% No-Take Zone for “experimental fishing” research.

Minister Steven Victor of MAFE agreed that marine spatial planning is the same as land use planning. “Maybe if there’s experimental fishing, we can learn how to reduce bycatch, what proper gear to use, what bait to use to avoid catching non-targeted species, and practice release techniques that  increase survival of non-targeted species.”

Information collected from “experimental fishing” within the No-Take zone will help with the planning process, Minister Victor said,  “when there’s no study available to help you develop that data.”  “We need to study the business side of fishing in order to fish outside the reef, otherwise it will be difficult for us because fishing outside the reef is quite expensive.”

“We don’t want to change the conservation law but we want to make sure that conservation and sustainable fisheries go together. The sustainable fishery is a major component of Palau’s food security but we don’t quite realize it yet.”

Senator Sengebau contends that the 3-year “experimental fishing” is dubious when there’s more robust data already out there, citing the study published in 2019 in the Scientific Reports journal titled “Towards a Fishing Pressure Prediction System for a Western Pacific EEZ, Cimino_et_al-2019, a study conducted in Palau.

According to the study, the objective was to provide “high-resolution decision aids” to aid with the precision management of fisheries. The study conducted an EEZ-wide analysis of Palau’s commercial fishing over a 6-year period (2011-2016) and developed a system for “predicting fishing activity accounting for oceanic variables, climate indices, and vessel.  Linking pelagic habitat to fishing activity provides high-resolution decision aids for management, highlighting the need for EEZ-specific analysis in addressing fisheries.”

The study looked at fishing and environmental patterns in Palau EEZ by processing 6 years of VMS data containing time records of 1.2 million vessel locations.  It focused on the different types of vessels, vessel locations, fishing methods used, gear types, and species caught.

One of the findings from the data collected suggests that the “time-dependent temperatures may be a better indicator of species caught than fishing location.”

 “Enough studies and data are available, maintained Senator Sengebau. “It depends on the questions you want answers to.”

On the same matter, the Office of the Council of Chiefs (COC) implores the Senate not to approve the amendment to the existing PNMS law that would allow “experimental fishing” within the No-Take Zone.

COC maintained that there are existing as well as ongoing studies happening within Palau’s EEZ with “implications for local fisheries development.”  The alternative course of action proposed in the Supplemental budget rider, according to the Council of Chiefs, “is costly and tough to enforce with limited resources.”

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