The Palau National Marine Sanctuary legislation pending in the Senate has been receiving overwhelming support both internationally and locally.
In Palau, medical state governments are passing resolutions in support of this legislation, which proposes to close off 80% of Palau’s territorial waters to commercial fishing, leaving 20% for domestic use.
International and global organizations with Hollywood celebrities, famous scientists and philanthropists memberships have also aired their support calling the Marine Sanctuary as a “visionary initiative for the nation, the region and the world.”
However, existing concerns such as the constitutionality of the ban and lost fishing rights fees as a result of it are challenging the establishment of this initiative, and calling for the rejection of the marine sanctuary legislation in its entirety.
Talobak Victorio Uherbelau, a well-known fisheries expert, who has served many positions in government including as Director of the Forum Fisheries Agency is among those against the creation of the marine sanctuary or Senate bill 9-30.
In 2014, Uherbelau published a manifesto detailing why the proposed ban should not take effect. Same points were made as part of his review requested by Angaur Governor Marvin Ngirutang, Kayangel Governor Jeffrey Titiml and Kayangel Speaker Elmis Ruluked. The 2014 manifesto and his February 6, 2015 opinion for the two state governments were submitted to the Senate.
Among his points is the protection of commercial purse seine fishing under Article XII, Section 6(c) of Palau’s Constitution, which states “all revenues from licensing of foreign fishing vessels to fish for highly migratory fish within the jurisdictional waters of Palau shall be divided equitably between the national government and all the state governments as determined by the OEK”. To ban commercial fishing would require an amendment deleting this article in the constitution suggests Uherbelau.
He went on to express that by approving the ban, Palau would deprive the future generation from millions of dollars in revenue from commercial fishing of tuna. In addition to poorer economies of the 16 states deprived of 85% of its fishing rights fees.
President Remengesau says a thorough review of the constitution was conducted early on to ensure that the sanctuary could be implemented. He says the Office of the President is working on a response to Uherbelau’s assessment.
The Palau National Marine Sanctuary legislation is pending under the new Senate Committee on Maritime, Environment and Protected Areas chaired by Senator Mlib Tmetuchl.