We are alarmed to know that Senate Bill No. 8-56 has been passed by the Palau Congress.
We urge you to veto Senate Bill No. 8-56, the bill now on your desk to allow open seasons for the taking and selling of Humphead (Napoleon) wrasse, Bumphead parrotfish, and grouper. SB No. 8-56 was fully passed by the Olbiil Era Kelulau and was sent to your Office on November 12th. If not vetoed within 15...
We are alarmed to know that Senate Bill No. 8-56 has been passed by the Palau Congress.
We urge you to veto Senate Bill No. 8-56, the bill now on your desk to allow open seasons for the taking and selling of Humphead (Napoleon) wrasse, Bumphead parrotfish, and grouper. SB No. 8-56 was fully passed by the Olbiil Era Kelulau and was sent to your Office on November 12th. If not vetoed within 15 days from that date (by November 26th), SB No. 8-56 will emerge as law.
This bill as law will have a devastating impact on these fish and reefs, on Palau's economy, and upon Palau's standing as a leader in ocean conservancy. I offer you these substantial negative consequences to consider:
• Unrestrained decimation during spawning aggregations: While SB No. 8-56 makes the point that these aggregating species are traditionally valued for consumption, any tradition that now enables substantial harm to threatened species must be seen as unacceptable. It is also within Palauan tradition to be observant of the state of the natural environment and of the long-term consequences of harmful practices. Aggregating fish that form large groups to spawn at predictable times and locations are especially vulnerable to over exploitation. The usually solitary Humphead wrasse is particularly fragile, where groups of up to 150 can gather to spawn in Palau's waters. Contrary to SB No. 8-56's unsubstantiated claim that Palau's groupers are rebounding and can withstand 3 months of fishing pressure, groupers have been documented as virtually eliminated in at least 5 sites in Palau due to over-fishing of spawning aggregations (listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List). While all studies show these aggregating species have drastically declined worldwide, no management interventions of any kind are offered in SB No. 8-56 for the protection of spawning aggregations.
• Detailed locations of aggregation sites have been recently released: Until very recently, assessments on spawning aggregations in Palau have been mostly anecdotal. Shortly before SB No. 8-56 was introduced, a new scientific study on Palau's Humphead wrasse was released, titled "Aggregation and Spawning of the Humphead wrasse: General Aspects of Spawning Behaviour " by P. L. Colin. [http://www.scrfa.org/images/stories/pdf/scrfa/colin.2010.aggregationandspawningofthehumpheadwrasse.pdf] This was the result of 6 years of direct observation where aggregation sites were described in great detail and were mapped using GPS receivers. Marked aerial photographs also reveal precise aggregation locations. The author was aware that his research was a map for those willing to destroy Palau's remaining Humphead wrasse, but he reasoned that such disclosure concerning the fate of Palau's most iconic fish was safe:
"Despite sensitivities about revealing the positions of newly located spawning aggregation sites, detailed information was provided to describe the relationship of the physical aspects of the site to the biology of aggregation and spawning...Cheilinus undulatus (Napoleon wrasse) is now fully protected in Palauan waters reducing potential effects of fishers on populations from such detailed information; no capture is allowed and there is thought to be only minor poaching."
• No environmental assessment performed: There are standing laws and requirements that are being flagrantly ignored with Senate Bill No. 8-56. Removing Palau's total ban in taking and selling adult Bumphead parrotfish (kemedukl) and Humphead wrasse (maml) with a 3 month open fishing and selling season (and an additional 4th month for selling alone) is in direct opposition to the no-sale provision of Senate Bill No. 7-64. In 2006, Palau stipulated a total ban on the taking of these fish unless a thorough non-detrimental finding could recommend altering their protected status, yet there's been no environmental assessment to justify such an open season. Capture/killing methods aren't addressed either -- there's no limitation to size or number. Also missing: a ban on scuba spearfishing which is well known to be the single most important measure to protect these species from over-exploitation.
• Coincides with unsustainable demand with the Chinese New Year: The period chosen to lift the ban on wrasse and parrotfish allows 3 months for both capture and sale from November 1st to January 31st, with selling permitted for an additional 4th month, from February 1st to March 1st. While SB No. 8-56 specifies that it's meant for the traditional holiday season of Palauans (Christmas), this pushed-back sales allowance is also designed to coincide with the voracious Chinese New Year holiday period surrounding February 3rd.
• Incentive for illegal export, particularly with Humphead wrasse: Live Humphead wrasse can fetch up to US $250 per kilogram at wholesale. The Live Reef Food Fish Trade (LRFFT) has been banned in Palau for many years, and advocating a season for Humphead wrasse is a strategy for circumventing that. Hong Kong takes in 75% of the live reef fish food trade. It bears mentioning that Palau now has a new route of direct flights to and from Hong Kong. However, the more apparent threat with quicker access to Hong Kong is that more appetites eager to consume the vanishing Humpheads will be coming to Palau.
• The taking of these species presents secondary destructive impacts to Palau's reefs: The typical method of easy capture using cyanide kills all the surrounding reef and other aquatic life where it is used. Even where cyanide isn't used, without these grazing fish the reef is much more likely to being smothered by algae; particularly while stressed by a warming event like the El Nino in 1998. One third of your reefs were severely damaged, yet these "grazers" were able to help restore the corals before they were lost. Humphead wrasse are also of great benefit as one of only a few animals that prey upon the reef-destroying Crown of Thorns seastar, now present in 5 areas of Palau.
• Contradicts Palau's Sanctuary ethos and the Presidential call for a "Bul": Palau has received world attention as the "World's First National Shark Sanctuary." Overlay that promise of stewardship with the exploitation of SB 8-56 -- it's totally inconsistent with Palau as a beacon for marine conservation. While the UN sanctuary designation set a new benchmark as a manifesto, your aspirations will rapidly unravel if this bill becomes law. Legalizing needless plunder and disrupting species' interdependence would certainly rescind the visionary promise of your UN pronouncement.
"Palauans have a long history of living in harmony with nature. In days gone by, the traditional chiefs of Palau would declare a "bul" – a moratorium to protect a resource which had become scarce....All governments need to act now, to conserve the vast biodiversity of our oceans. I call upon the world to join me in taking action to protect the best and conserve the rest, so our children will someday thank us" - from the speech on behalf of President Toribiong by Minister Harry Fritz, during the award ceremony honoring Palau at the Convention in Trade on Endangered Species.
• Divers see the Humphead wrasse and Bumphead parrotfish as living treasures that are just as compelling as Palau's sharks: The repeated experience of viewing them alive is a thousand-fold more profitable to Palau than their destruction as some product for consumption. It is unthinkable to ignore standing conservation law, economics, and ecological reality and instead facilitate the irreparable demise of Palau's rare Humphead wrasse and Bumphead parrotfish populations. Great promise was instilled with Palau's UN declaration as the world's first national Shark Sanctuary. The 75% of Palau's visitors that come to dive and snorkel now see Palau as a dive oasis. They will feel betrayed with the passage of SB No. 8-56.
Short-sighted, greed-driven interests are vitally dependent on you allowing SB No. 8-56 to become law at the expense of destroying your living treasures and, with them, Palau's lasting well-being. This path will only lead to the collapse of both aquatic species and tourism with the inevitable loss of nourishment and livelihoods. Palau's environmental, political, and economic realm must ultimately be shaped by the will of it's President. I urge you to be Palau's voice for reason on this issue and veto Senate Bill No. 8-56.
We are scuba divers, snorkelers, who have visited Palau, or are planning to dive at Palau in the near future because our friends who have visited Palau have consistently rate Palau as one of the best diving destination of the world because of its pristine marine ecosystem and the large number and variety of tropical fish and they are always impressed by the number and size of napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrotfish and groupers that have disappeared in other countries which have not protect their treasures. Please help us continue to celebrate Palau as the world's best diving destination.