Palau is going the extra mile to accommodate the request of Japan, particularly Okinawa, to fish in in its waters where domestic fishing activities are exclusively allowed during the implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) Act in 2020, a law that aims to close 80 percent of its waters for conservation purposes.
The new amendments to the PNMS law which was signed by President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. on June 12, 2019 now moved the coordinates of the domestic fishing zone – which encompasses the remaining 20% of Palau’s waters or 85,896 square miles of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – from the eastern part of Palau to the west for several reasons including the accommodation of Japan’s request to continue fishing in its waters.
Although the newly amended law does not specifically mention Japanese fishing boats to be allowed to fish in the domestic fishing zone, President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. had previously told the media that Palau wants to be able to accommodate ‘whatever it can’ from Japan’s request.
Some of the amendments followed suit after Japan previously extended its request to the Palau government to allow some 20 small-scale longliners from Okinawa to fish in its waters even during the implementation of the PNMS act. Palau’s government also confirmed that the amendments were made after consultation with Japan.
The relocation of Palau’s domestic fishing zone is believed to be more conducive to the local fishermen and marine law enforcers as it will give local fishermen easy access to fish in the high seas without crossing the marine sanctuary and also strategic in enforcing the law, respectively, according to Remengesau in his signing statement.
Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism Minister Umiich Sengebau, during a press conference on June 12, clarified that Palau is not encouraging people to fish in the high seas but is merely stating that it has no jurisdiction over it.
The high seas are the open oceans that do not belong to any country’s jurisdiction.
“The advantage of having this corridor to the high seas is when vessels go back to Taiwan for servicing or vessels from Okinawa [are] coming [to fish in the domestic fishing zone], they can go through the high seas without going to the closed area (the 80% national marine sanctuary) and then go to the domestic zone that is open,” Sengebau said.
Sengebau pointed out that some vessels from Palau also go to the high seas to fish.
Among the major amendments to the law, which the government said were backed by studies, included the allowance of the export of pelagic fish caught through purse seine and long-line fishing within the 20% domestic fishing zone. Although Okinawan fishermen can continue to fish in the domestic fishing zone, there is, however, a portion of it where foreign vessels are not allowed to enter or fish, particularly the area covered by the 24-nautical-mile distance from the territorial or state waters’ boundaries. It should be noted that each state in Palau regulates their own waters, hence, the national government has no jurisdiction over them.
The new PNMS law also imposes a tax of $0.50 per kilogram on any species of tuna and billfish exported for commercial purposes while $0.35 per kilogram will also be imposed on other types of fish exported for commercial purposes.
It also authorizes the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) to administer the PNMS and provide it with another funding to carry on additional obligations through the Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee (PPEF). Five dollars from every $100 PPEF collected from each tourist visiting Palau will now go to PICRC for the PNMS administration.
Meanwhile, Remengesau, in his signing statement, said that the amendments were made according to the single consideration of what is good for Palau.
Remengesau also reiterated that the 80% of Palau’s EEZ which will comprised the PNMS remains to be free from any form of fishing activities. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)