Palau's fish stocks overexploited but quickly recovered

PICRC publishes new scientific paper on the status of reef fish stocks in the Pacific nation

PICRC Research Team and author/co-authors from left, Dawnette "Uli" Olsudong, Christina Muller-Karanassos, lead author, Geory Mereb and Victor Nestor. Photo courtesy of PICRC

Koror-- Many of Palau’s fish species had been overexploited but they quickly propagated, allowing replenishment of stocks before they got depleted, according to the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC).


"When we looked at the spawning potential ratio (SPR) or the ability of fishes to reproduce to maintain their populations, most of them were above 20 percent," said Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, chief executive officer of PICRC.


"If the SPR is above 20 percent, it means that existing fish populations are able to reproduce to maintain their populations," he added.


Golbuu is one of the co-authors of the report titled “Effects of habitat, fishing, and fisheries management on reef fish populations in Palau," published this week in the scientific journal Fisheries Research.


The report was based on the results of a 2017 survey initiated by PICRC to determine the status of commercially important reef fish stocks at 94 sites from Kayangel to Angaur.


According to PICRC, the states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol were excluded from the program due to their remoteness while Ngeruangel Atoll in Kayangel was excluded, given its status as a marine protected area. This study targets commercially important fish stocks in locations open to fishing.


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The report also disclosed that the reef fish biomass is highest in the western fore-reefs and northern reefs of Palau, while it is generally low at the majority of sites.


“While the results show most reef areas in Palau are overexploited, there are several positive results from the study," Golbuu said.


He said the survey reef fish stocks indicated that overexploitation might have been the result of past activity


"Another good news is that areas such as the northern reefs, which has some of the highest fish biomass, have strong management measures in place. Finally, the data showed that in channel sites, areas close to MPAs have more fish than those farther away, indicating there are spillover effects from MPAs to nearby sites," Golbuu said.


"With the national law banning exports of reef fishes that was passed last year and the state governments putting in place management measures to protect their fish populations, we expect the fish populations around Palau to continue to recover from past overexploitation," he added.



The enormous importance of reef fish to Palauans for sustenance, cultural practices and livelihood, necessitates regular monitoring to keep track of the status of their population, size and diversity, especially with the more targeted commercially important fishes.


Findings highlighted the need for continued fisheries management at the state and nationwide level, to ensure that reef fishing is sustainable and this important resource can continue to provide for the people of Palau.


The lead author of the study is PICRC researcher, Christina Muller-Karanassos, and co-authored by other PICRC researchers, including Victor Nestor, Dawnette Olsudong, and Geory Mereb, along with various collaborators from National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas, University of Hawaii, The Nature Conservancy, University of Guam and Coral Reef Research Foundation.



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