Author: Bernadette Carreon
To celebrate World Tuna Day, Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. on 1 May signed a presidential directive calling for a “national commitment to reduce pressure on the reef, promote locally produce foods.”
Under the directive, all government food service systems must serve pelagic fish such as tuna, with reef fish no longer allowed to be served at any government event or by any government-backed foodservice system.
In his directive, Remengesau said the move was being made to ensure food security and increase the supply of tuna to the domestic market.
“Tuna and tuna-like pelagic fish species are more resilient to fishing pressure due to their higher productivity and more extensive stocks compared to reef fish,” he said.
Remengesau also stressed that Palau, which has a high rate of obesity and diabetes, can combat non-communicable diseases by shifting to a healthier traditional diet, including tuna and root crops.
In the Pacific region including in Palau’s waters, distant-water fishing fleets from Japan, China, and Taiwan carry out large-scale commercial tuna fishing. But Remengesau said his plan to maximize fisheries resources calls for all fish caught in near-shore areas to be reserved for Palau’s domestic and tourism needs. In addition, an expansion of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary will cover more than 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area of almost 500,000 square kilometers, with 20 percent reserved for traditional fishing, by January 2020.
The president said most high-grade tunas do not land on Palauans’ plates, but are immediately exported.
“Tuna means livelihood, economic security for Palau. We want to eat high-grade tuna and not rejects,” Remengesau said.
The directive is also in line with the Palau Conservation Society’s (PCS) “Choose Pelagics” program, which the president said is “a collaborative initiative and cross-sectoral effort aimed at creating incentives to promote the development of a sustainable domestic pelagic fishery.”
A study last year conducted by Nippon Foundation-UBC Nereus Program advocated for lower consumption of reef fish and recommended policy that would require reductions in reef fish consumption by both resident Palauans and visitors.
It noted that health of reefs can be maintained by “shifting seafood consumption to open-water fish, such as sustainably-harvested tuna, instead of reef fishes such as grouper, snapper, and parrotfish.”