Senate passes National Marine Sanctuary bill
WRITTEN BY JOSE RODRIGUEZ T. SENASE
THURSDAY, 15 OCTOBER 2015 16:55
Measure goes to HOD
The Palau Senate has finally passed the proposal to create the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS).
All ten senators present during the Senate session yesterday voted to approve the measure in the third and final reading.
Those who voted for the PNMS proposal, which is also known as Senate Bill No. 9-30, were Senate President Camsek Chin, and Senators Hokkons Baules, Surangel Whipps, Jr., Mason Whipps, Regis Akitaya, J. Uduch Sengebau-Senior, Rukebai Inabo, Raynold Oilouch, Phillip Reklai, and Mark Rudimch.
Senators Mlib Tmetuchl and Joel Toribiong are reportedly off-island and were not present during the voting, while Senate Vice President Kathy Kesolei recently passed away.
A press release from the Office of the President said Pres. Remengesau was elated by the passage of the measure, which has been one of his priorities.
"I commend our Senators for advancing this important piece of legislation and look forward to working with the House on swift passage," said President Thomas E. Remengesau, Jr. "The Palau National Marine Sanctuary is more than a conservation proposal, it is critical for our nation's food, economic, and national security,” he stated.
The Palau National Marine Sanctuary will transform the nation's waters into two distinct areas. After a five-year transition period, 80 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone(EEZ) totaling 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) will become a fully protected marine reserve where all extractive activities will be prohibited. The remaining 20 percent will become a fishing zone for Palau’s domestic market with limited foreign fishing and exports.
"This is an important breakthrough," said Seth Horstmeyer, a director with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy project, which has provided technical assistance for the sanctuary proposal since 2014. "Upon full designation, the National Marine Sanctuary will benefit the people of Palau and the overall health of the ocean."
The measure was endorsed for passage by the Senate Committee on Resources and Development chaired by Senator Mason Whipps last year. But the measure was then re-assigned to Sen. Mlib Tmetuchl’s Committee on Maritime Environment and Protected Area (MEPA).
The measure then stalled at the MEPA Committee, with Sen. Tmetuchl saying that more time was needed to review it.
However, on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, upon motion of Sen. Baules, who was the author of the measure, the Whipps Committee Report endorsing the bill’s passage was recalled and voted out of the MEPA to the Senate floor for deliberation.
The approved bill includes provisions that will ensure that Palau will continue to receive revenues from the PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme.
It will also phase out foreign commercial long line fishing over a five year period, and then will require any locally owned long line catch to be landed in Palau for the domestic and tourism market.
The proposed law now moves to the HOD, where a companion bill was introduced in August 2015 by a majority of its members.
A member of the HOD said they will approve the Senate version with only minor changes.
“It could be in the President’s desk for his signature by next week,” he stated.
The measure has strong local and international support. Supporters include 15 of 16 state governors, all 16 state legislatures, Palau Chamber of Commerce, Belau Boaters Association, Palau Sports Fishing Association, Northern Reef Fisheries Alliance, Ocean Elders (comprised of many prominent international figures like Queen Noor of Jordan, Prince Albert of Monaco, CNN founder Ted Turner and others), National Geographic, Greenpeace, Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), and heads of states of neighboring countries like Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.
Those who oppose the initiative are concerned of Palau’s ability to recoup the estimated $5 to $8 million the country receives every year by way of taxes and commercial licensing fees paid by local and foreign fishing companies.