Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Shark Protection in Palau. Where Are We?

There is no question that the battle to protect Palau's sharks must continue and it does, but perhaps it's time to review just exactly where we are right now in order to help determine how best to continue the fight.

Shark Protection in Palau, September 2009:

Despite efforts by some to the contrary, Palau continues its' six-year world leadership with perhaps the strongest shark protection legislation yet passed worldwide!

Summary of Palau’s Shark Protection Law as of September 2003:

Palau’s laws makes it illegal for any foreign-fishing vessel to have any part of any shark, or turtle, or ray, on board at any time, for any reason, dead or alive.

If a shark or turtle or ray is caught alive it must be returned to the water in a manner that best ensures its survival. If dead it must be returned to the water in whole. It is a violation of the law to have onboard at any time a “steel leader”. A “leader” is the first several feet of fishing line joining the hook to the main body of line. Steel “leaders” (as opposed to monofilament fishing line) are used to target sharks as they cannot bite through the steel cable. Fines of up to $250,000 per incident are permitted against violators (each shark can be counted as one incident).

How Did We Get To This Point?

IN 1995, and before, alarm was growing in several areas of the community as knowledge of the destruction of sharks that was occuring in Palau's waters at the hands of licensed foreign fishing vessels began to emerge. Shark fishing and shark finning was not illegal in Palau at the time and foreign fishing boats with shark fins hanging from their rigging were not unusual sights in Malakal Harbor. Who knows for how long this had been going on before it came to the attention of those who recognized the danger?

An unsung hero in the passage of Palau’s first shark protection legislation is Noah Idechong, a former PEW Fellow, and current Delegate representing Ngiwal State to Palau’s Congress (OEK). As far back as 1997, and perhaps earlier, Idechong was fighting for shark protection laws for Palau. He was instrumental in crafting of the shark protection legislation that was eventually passed and played a key role in successfully guiding it through the long and difficult process of legal review, building of community support, overcoming of objections, and in finally rallying sufficient political support to secure their passage. Without his efforts Palau may not have taken such an early stance against shark fishing and shark finning.

IN NOVEMBER 2001, Palau Shark Sanctuary was founded with the goal of establishing the waters of Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone as a SHARK SANCTUARY.

IN MAY 2003, Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., demonstrated his strong support for passage of even tougher shark protection laws by publicly set fire to shark fins found aboard a foreign vessel caught fishing illegally in Palau waters. Shark fishing was by then illegal but maximum fines allowed against violators were minimal and not a deterrent at all. It was a message heard round the world.
IN SEPTEMBER 2003, (6 years ago this month), President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., signed in to law some of the world's toughest shark protection legislation with heavy penalties of up to $250,000 per incident for violators. This ground-breaking legislation remains the law in Palau today, despite recent efforts to overturn it.

In the 6 years since Palau’s bold move in 2003, no other country that I am aware of has passed shark protection laws remotely close to the strength of Palau’s laws.

IN JANUARY 2004, Palau received international recognition from Shark Project as recipient of their very first Shark Guardian of The Year Award, for passage of such tough shark protection laws.
Enforcement of Shark Protection - A Running Battle:

In the months and years since 2003, Palau’s Division of Marine Law Enforcement which operates Palau’s lone patrol boat “Remeliik” has been engaged in the frontline battle to protect Palau’s fisheries including enforcement of shark protection laws. Likewise, Palau’s Customs Officers and other law enforcement personnel have been engaged in monitoring the activities of foreign fishing vessels in Palau’s waters and have been successful in prosecuting a growing list of violators through Palau’s courts.

In my 12/8/08 Post I highlighted Palau's Marine Observer Program as yet another step in Palau's efforts to protect its fisheries and enforce its laws.
But fisheries protection for Palau is a classic "David versus Goliath" battle in the form of an international game of cat and mouse.

Fleets of legal and illegal foreign fishing vessels from larger wealthier countries that include Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia boldly violate Palau's laws and pirate their marine resources simply because they think they can. But Palau is not alone in the fight nor willing to give up quite so easily as recent high seas arrests by "Remeliik" has shown.

Read back through posts on for more reports.

The Royal Australian Navy which provided Palau (and many other Pacific Island nations) with their patrol boat maintains a Maritime Surveillance Team on the ground in Palau to advise and support the efforts of “Remeliik” in fisheries protection. The Royal Australian Navy Team provides technical assistance and training to the crew of “Remeliik” while the vessel itself is operated by an all Palauan crew.

The Royal Australian Air Force also lends a hand with maritime surveillance using P3-Orion aircraft to monitor Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone. On a recent 3 day aerial patrol in August 2009, a total of 70 fishing vessels were recorded from countries that included Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.
Assault on Shark Protection in Palau:

JANUARY 2009, Palau’s mostly new government of 16 State Delegates and 13 Senators was sworn in to office, along with Palau's new President H.E. Johnson Toribiong, thereby ending the eight year Remengesau administration.

Assault on Palau's Shark Protection Laws:

MARCH 5, 2009, Senate Bill B No. 8-44 which proposes to allow commercial fishing for sharks was introduced by a newly elected Senator and passed on 1st reading that same day.
MARCH 26, 2009, SB No. 8-50 which proposes to exempt commercial fishing companies from export taxes on fish caught by purse-seining methods for a period of 5 years was also introduced by another newly elected Senator and passed first reading on the same day too.

So began the recent campaign to weaken and or repeal Palau’s six year old world-leading shark protection legislation and place Palau’s fisheries under threat. (Read March 17 and April 2, 2009, posts on this Blog for more details).

IN A MARCH 17, 2009, Blog post, Palau Shark Sanctuary raised the alarm to the international community who immediately rallied to the cause with letters, blogs, petitions, radio shows and more, urging Palau’s newly installed government to maintain Palau’s strong shark protection and fisheries laws.
IN MARCH 2009, SB 8-44 was brought forth for discussion in the Senate which ended in deadlock and therefore the bill was deferred for possible action in the next session of congress scheduled to occur in October 2009.

Part Two to Follow……..Stay Tuned!

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