In Palau, the local NGO partner is The Nature Conservancy. We began working with the two northernmost states of Kayangel and Ngarchelong in August 2012 with an initial training course which ended with a week of fishing, during which the trainees measured about 900 fish, of which 65% were observed to be immature.
That preliminary observation galvanized the Palauan partners and continues to be widely cited despite the completion of spawning potential assessments. By June 2013 some 2089 fish had been sampled and six initial assessments completed. These were reported to community meetings in each state, leading up to a joint summit meeting of the two states, attended by community members, traditional male and female leaders, and state and national politicians. Those meetings agreed that the two states should move towards the co-ordinated implementation of new fisheries management laws.
The mood of these meetings was summed up by Mr Harper Skang, advisor to Ngarchelong’s State Governor, who said, “We knew the house was burning down but did not understand why, now that we do there are many things we can do about it.”
Steven Victor, now Director of TNC’s Micronesia program, wrote to Dr Carmen Revenga, TNC’s Sustainable Fisheries Director that:
- “The method was well received in Palau and we have been able to collect enough data for some species that we can begin to discuss management options.
- It fits well to community based fisheries management.
- I found the technique to be simple so that every fishermen can implement it. The data analysis seems very straight forward.
- The results just reinforced what fishermen knew about fish decline and made them understand how the fishing effort is leading to the decline.
- Basically, they realize that they are not giving the fish a chance to reproduce and if they continue to fish the way they do, then there will be no fish for them.”
By September 2013 a total of 3,711 fish had been measured and 13 assessments developed. By the time the initial sampling program was completed in January 2016 10,618 fish of 153 species had been measured, allowing the spawning potential of 18 species comprising >70% of the catch to be estimated and advice on minimum size limits developed.
New fisheries management laws including temporary bans on catching groupers, size limits for an initial seven species and licensing of fishers were legislated by Kayangel in 2016 and Ngarchelong in mid-2017, and a broader national discussion initiated about changing management arrangement.
In Palau the Packard Foundation funded extensive base line stereo-video surveys of the northern reefs in late 2015, which were repeated for the first time during the second half of 2017. The results suggest that already some slight improvements in fish biomass and size have occurred on the reefs closest to the largest communities. Too soon to have resulted from the new legislation, if real and not just statistical anomalies, these early survey results may support community claims that prior to the legislated changes coming into effect, at least some fishers began to voluntarily catch and release fish below the proposed minimum sizes.
In October 2015, my colleague Dr Steven Lindfield and I were fishing with a group of Palauans to collect gonad samples and we compelled them to release fish smaller than the proposed minimum size limit. At the time that resulted in much discussion about the fact that it was the first time the Palauans had ever caught and released fish, but that they observed that it ‘felt good’. Recently in early November 2017 I was again fishing with a group of Palauans, this time for a fish barbecue, and was quietly thrilled to see them spontaneously releasing small fish without comment, as if it was now entirely routine.
‘Fishermen In Palau Take On Role of Scientist To Save Their Fishery‘, published online at Nationalgeographic.org, November 5th 2013
‘A Breakthrough for Data-Poor Fisheries Starts in Palau‘, published online at Nature.org, October 24th 2013