Palau to Ban Commercial Fishing, Protecting Sharks and Tuna

Tuna in Ship's Hold

The Pacific island-nation of Palau plans to ban all commercial fishing vessels from its waters, creating one of the world’s largest marine reserves. The sanctuary will cover about 230,000 square miles, an area of ocean slightly smaller than the size of France. This is the focus of the latest report by the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) by Shannon Service, “Palau’s Plans to Ban Commercial Fishing Could Set Precedent for Tuna Industry,” published online today at The Guardian.

If Palau goes through with the plan, it will mark the first time a nation has completely banned fishing vessels from its entire Exclusive Economic Zone. The move is significant for the country, which is located in the part of the Pacific inhabited by the world’s last healthy stock of tuna–worth an estimated $5.5 billion. Commercial fishing, largely by boats from Japan and Taiwan, represents $5 million annually—or 3.3 percent of GDP—to Palau. But Palau’s tourist diving industry is far more significant, bringing in $85.3 million annually.

“We feel that a live tuna or shark is worth a thousand times more than a dead fish,” Palauan President Thomas Remengesau Jr. told Service in a telephone interview.

Palau created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 and today divers flock to the nation specifically to see sharks, reports Service. In a 2010 study, Australian researchers calculated that some 8,600 shark divers bring in $18 million per year and that sharks contribute eight percent of Palau’s GDP. In fact, each shark swimming through Palau’s waters pulls in $1.9 million from diving and tourism, while selling the creature for parts nets less than $11,000, the study said.

But Palau’s move may risk international relationships and foreign aid, which are brokered alongside tuna fishing licenses. The country is slated to receive $215 million from the U.S. in economic assistance and grants through 2024.

“Palau’s decision to act alone could be seen as a warning to the fishing industry to take the sustainability concerns of smaller, fish-rich nations more seriously and to work with these countries on more nimble and responsive solutions,” writes Service.

You can read the full story at The Guardian and here on our Web site. FERN’s earlier reports on attempts by Palau and other Pacific island-countries to protect tuna populations are available here and here.