The enormous importance of reef fish to Palauans for sustenance, cultural practices and livelihood, necessitates regular monitoring to keep track of the status of their population, size and diversity, especially with the more targeted commercially important fishes. In 2017, the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) initiated its nation-wide monitoring program to determine the status of commercially important reef fish stocks at 94 sites from Kayangel to Angaur. The states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol were excluded in the program due to their remoteness while Ngeruangel Atoll in Kayangel was excluded, given its status as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) since this study targets commercially important fish stocks in locations open to fishing.
The results of the 2017 survey have been recently published in the scientific journal Fisheries Research titled, “Effects of habitat, fishing, and fisheries management on reef fish populations in Palau”. Key findings from this survey validated the general public understanding that many of Palau’s principal fisheries species have been overexploited. In addition, they also reveal information not generally known by the public, such as that the reef fish biomass is highest in the western fore-reefs and Northern Reefs of Palau, while it is generally low at the majority of sites. These conclusions highlight the need for continued fisheries management at the state and nationwide level, to ensure that reef fishing is sustainable and this important resource can continue to provide for the people of Palau.
This nationwide study of fish populations is the first to evaluate the status of reef fish stocks across Palau’s archipelago and provides a baseline to continue assessing the changes in fish stocks over time. The lead author of the study is PICRC researcher, Christina Muller-Karanassos, and co-authored by other PICRC researchers, including Victor Nestor, Dawnette Olsudong, and Geory Mereb, along with various collaborators from National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas, University of Hawaii, The Nature Conservancy, University of Guam and Coral Reef Research Foundation.
According to Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PICRC and one of the co-authors of the study, “While the results show most reef areas in Palau are overexploited, there are several positive results from the study. When we looked at the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) or the ability of fishes to reproduce to maintain their populations, most of them were above 20%. If the SPR is above 20%, it means that existing fish populations are able to reproduce to maintain their populations. This might indicate the overexploited reef fish stocks are the results of past overexploitation. Another good news is that areas such as the Northern Reefs, which has some of the highest fish biomass, have strong management measures in place. Finally, the data showed that in channel sites, areas close to MPAs have more fish than those farther away, indicating there is spillover effects from MPAs to nearby sites. With the national law banning exports of reef fishes that was passed last year and the state governments putting in place management measures to protect their fish populations, we expect the fish populations around Palau to continue to recover from past overexploitation.”