In Palau, reef fish are vulnerable to anthropogenic stressors, such as overfishing and climate change. According to a recent study conducted by Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) Office, University of Hawaii, and funded by National Geographic Pristine Seas, a shift in seafood preference from reef fish to pelagic fish may be critical in sustaining Palau’s nearshore fisheries.
For decades, Palau’s pelagic fishery has been dominated by foreign fishing vessels. Still today, the vast majority of catch and revenue from this industry is exported overseas. Reclaiming this fishery could provide a new revenue and food source for Palau while simultaneously, alleviating pressure on Palau’s reef fish.
As the year 2020 approaches, Palau prepares for the PNMS to take full effect. The PNMS is promised to end this “export-driven” fishing and provide Palauans the opportunity to tap into this additional resource. Still, important questions remain about the potential socio-economic impacts and how to design an adequate policy for a pelagic fishery.
Through social-surveys, a research team set out to examine the supply chain of fish consumption in Palau. Researchers interviewed both residents and tourists to better understand their fish preferences, consumption habits, and willingness to pay for different kinds of proteins. Through these surveys, researchers found that locals living in urban areas have the most impact on Palau’s reef fish, while the impact from tourism is quite minimal. In fact, there are more reef fish being exported than there are consumed by tourists.
“Traditionally, Palauans have been expected to provide for their families. This means bringing home fish for your wife, your sisters, and whoever else you have to provide for”, shares surveyor and PICRC staff, Andrea Uchel. “Our research results are consistent with this Palauan mindset”.
According to this study, a significant portion of reef fish consumption is non-commercial. This finding highlights the need to devise an incentive for residents to make the switch from reef fish to pelagic fish.
Fortunately, this research also suggests that the PNMS has the potential to become a powerful tool that might help motivate tourism. According to the surveys, tourists, as a group, prefer raw tuna and other offshore fish and generally they were willing to pay $10 more per meal for local, sustainably-sourced fish.
While the majority of the surveyed tourists were unaware of the PNMS, nearly half of those who were aware, said that the Sanctuary played a large role in their decision to visit Palau. These findings imply that there is room to improve awareness of the PNMS, and if implemented properly, the Sanctuary may draw in more environmentally-friendly tourism.