By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Close to 2,000 supporters have signed an online petition seeking to stop the proposed reopening of Palau's national marine sanctuary, the world's largest fully protected territorial zone.
The petition, launched by the Palau National Marine Sanctuary's steering committee, was prompted by the House of Delegates' discussion on House Bill 11-30-2S, which would reopen an additional 50 percent of Palau's exclusive economic zone to foreign fishing.
The bill, if enacted into law, would clear a total of 70 percent of Palau's EEZ for longline and purse seine fishing.
"At best, this proposal would only realize short-term and marginal profits and has not positively identified any dollar amount in potential revenues," the petition reads,
The PNMS steering committee said HB 11-30-2S "would jeopardize the integrity and size of the sanctuary in what has become an international icon for Palau."
The PNMS was established in 2015, designating 80 percent of the nation's EEZ as a "no-take" conservation zone. The sanctuary designation was based on the ancient Palauan practice called "bul."
Proponents of HB 11-30-2S said the proposed reopening of the marine sanctuary would "stimulate economic recovery,” noting that the closure of 80 percent of the nation's EEZ has resulted in increased tuna prices in the domestic market, overexploitation of reef fish and national revenue decline.
Last year, the governor of Okinawa Prefecture asked Palau's Congress to consider opening new fishing areas in the marine sanctuary for the Okinawan fishermen.
Gov. Denny Tamaki said Okinawan fishermen suffered operational constraints after Palau reduced fishing areas in the nation’s EEZ.
"While it is understood that there is a need to seek ways to bolster our revenue earning capacity, short-term solutions should not jeopardize well thought out long-term policy objectives established for our republic by the Palauan people," reads the petition which is targeting 2,500 signatures.
The PNMS steering committee said the sanctuary "expresses a monumental environmental policy choice and commitment by the government and people of Palau that cannot and should not be easily trifled with."
The steering committee urged Palau's policymakers to explore other economic alternatives that would yield "sustainable revenues" and "return social and environmental gains."
Palau's economic policies, the committee said, must reflect the nation's "deep wisdom and connection to the ocean, which has cradled our lives and sustained our culture for many generations."
"In line with our cultural values and traditions, embodying a well thought out environmental policy and commitment of both the people and the government, the sanctuary began as a people's movement through a petition and quickly gained popular support, sweeping the nation," the petition says.