Palau Senate Votes to Lift Napoleon Wrasse Fishing Ban

palau fishing ban napoleon wrasse

Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) are inquisitive and often appear friendly to divers (Photo: Ewelina Heil/Shutterstock)

The government of Palau has passed a bill which will rescind a 2006 ban on the fishing of Napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish. According to a local source, Palau's environmentalist president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., is not in favour of the bill and is seeking to delay signing it into law by reaching out for public comment.

Commercial fishing for Napoleon wrasse (mami in Palauan) and bumphead parrotfish (kemeduki), was outlawed by Palau's 1994 Marine Protection Act. The non-commercial hunting of adult fish over a certain size was allowed to continue. However, a total ban on the take of both species was implemented in 2006 after an investigation by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) found that fish stocks were in rapid decline.

In 2013, the PICRC conducted a study into effects of the fishing ban and found that although populations had increased, they were still recovering from the effects of overfishing. The resulting PICRC technical report recommended that the moratorium be extended while monitoring of the populations continued – by at least another 3-5 years for the parrotfish, and longer for Napoleon wrasse which take six years to reach sexual maturity.

palau fishing ban bumphead parrotfish

Bumphead (or green humphead) parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) are a popular sighting in the waters of Palau (Photo: Rich Carey/Shutterstock)

Palau is well known for its commitment to conservation, having created the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009 and, in 2014, becoming the first nation in the world to declare all of its protected waters a commercial no-take fishing zone. In recent years, Palau has banned the use of sunscreens toxic to coral reefs and asked all visitors to sign an environmental pledge stamped into their passports on arrival.

Despite the country's green credentials, the bill to lift the restrictions on hunting the two species – a copy of which has been forwarded to DIVE – was introduced to the Palau Senate in 2017 and approved on 29 January this year. The bill states that 'the taking of adult Napoleon Wrasse (mami) and adult Bumphead Parrot Fish (kemeduki) during a limited season are necessary for the exercise of Palauan traditions and customs,' and asks for a lifting of the ban to create a two-month fishing season 'for personal consumption and other related purposes.' 

palau islands

Much of Palau's waters are already off limits to commercial fishing, thanks to President Remengesau (Photo: Shutterstock)

Napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish are among the favourites of divers who visit Palau – especially Napoleon wrasse, whose often curious nature makes them a favourite of divers around the world. The PCIRC report includes a section dedicated specifically to dive tourism, which shows that healthy populations of both fish are of more financial benefit to the economy than were they to be hunted. 

Worldwide, Napoleon wrasse are listed on the IUCN Red List as 'endangered' and bumphead parrotfish as 'vulnerable'. While the taking of these species may be a culturally important issue to the natives of Palau, given their financial benefit to Palau's economy through tourism, coupled with Palau's extensive and historic green credentials, it is not surprising that President Remengesau is reluctant to sign the bill into law.




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