What Palau Understands That California Doesn’t

What does the tiny Pacific-island nation of Palau understand that lawmakers in California just can’t seem to grasp?



Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

In a nutshell, Palau understands that it makes the most sense from both environmental and economic standpoints to ensure that any vast network of marine reserves is designed to offer protection from actual rather than imagined threats.

That’s as opposed to the great minds from the great state of California, who’ve decided to simply close off a crazy-quilt network of marine reserves that rims the state’s coastline from threats both real and nonexistent (or minimal).

In March, Palau President Tommy Remengesau announced his hope of making that country's territorial waters — about the size of France, according to a report on fis.com — into one of the largest marine reserves on Earth.

The very thought is enough to have sport fishermen shaking their heads in dismay and wondering if there will be any ocean left for them to fish.

But wait — there’s more!

Remengesau wants to ban industrial ­commercial fishing in these waters (where huge Asian netters have for years plundered tuna stocks, while contributing precious little to Palau’s economy — a scenario typical for many Pacific-island nations). But the president would not ban recreational fishing.

In other words, the leader of this small Pacific‑island nation is way ahead of the collective intellect of legislators and environmentalists in California, as well as Washington D.C., Australia, and elsewhere. He simply sees the obvious: Recreational fishing can be managed so it takes few or virtually no marine resources, yet — like the gift that keeps on giving ­— pours money into the national economy.

The Palauan president has talked of requiring the release of all fish caught by sport fishermen; while that might be a bit draconian, it still allows anglers to enjoy their sport, and is still more than sport fishermen can do now off much of the California coast or northeastern Australia’s reefs.

Remengesau has suggested that the minimal revenue loss from the cessation of commercial fishing could be recouped with an increase in sport fishing and other tourism activities, as Palau’s waters become a showcase for their natural beauty and abundant marine life.

Of course no government closure can fully protect any waters from pollution, global warming or various natural disasters; I’ve always found it interesting that advocates of no-take marine reserves often fail to acknowledge the effect of such problems, as if keeping anglers out will keep all waters and marine life safe.

To ban even catch-and-release recreational fishing from marine-reserve waters does nothing (as long as anglers play by the rules) to help the reserves, the environment or fish stocks. It makes no sense in Palau; it makes no sense off California or the Great Barrier Reef or anywhere else.

The only difference is that Palau gets it.

Now maybe we can persuade President Remengesau to run for governor of California ....

But, you might reasonably wonder, how will the tiny island nation enforce its commercial-fishing ban over such a huge area of ocean? Drones! Just as this issue was going to press, Remengesau announced a proposal, working with NGOs and other nations, to use drones to help effect his ambitious plan. “What better use of drones?” he asks. I love this guy!