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David stands against Goliath; Palau’s single patrol boat defends the region

IN the far west of the northern Pacific, a single patrol boat stands against the waves of Distant Water Fishing Nation vessels which threaten the region’s fish stocks. Outnumbered and outgunned, the President Remelik will soon be replaced by a state of the art Australian ship complemented by a Japanese patrol vessel. But coming out of the west every day are fishing boats from as far afield as Myanmar and Vietnam who pillage the waters of the northern and south-western Pacific. Conservative estimates place the losses to the region through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at 306,440 tonnes worth anywhere between US$152.67million and US$616m. Palau’s Fisheries Minister, Urich Sengebau, says pirate vessels take four-five per cent of this catch – that is 11,000 tonnes worth about $20m.

The northern Pacific republic punches well above its weight in terms of ocean security and conservation. In October 2015, Palau passed a law converting 80 per cent of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary, prohibiting commercial fishing, oil drilling, and seabed mining. “To provide alternative livelihoods for affected households, the government will promote ecotourism,” Sengebau said. “And we will charge a new environmental impact fee to replace lost revenues from banning commercial fishing in Palau.” Every traveller through Palau’s airports and wharves is charged $20 upon departure and this is channelled to government revenue. The country was forced to take the action after the Asian Development Bank projected that fishing licenses in Palau would decline by 8.5 per cent with the creation of the country’s Marine Sanctuary.

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