The traditional prescription for an ailing reef is a fishing ban called a bul. Local chiefs may declare a bul to rest a busy fishing spot or protect endangered sea turtles. Now Palau’s president has a more drastic plan. He proposes a complete ban on commercial fishing—a bul to turn the 600,000 square kilometres (232,000 square miles) of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into a marine reserve the size of Ukraine. Locals could still fish close to shore, but not for export. The ban would last until world leaders implement programmes “to reverse the devastation to our oceans and seas”, Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau, recently told the United Nations. Environmentalists have rallied to his cause. Such reserves are usually declared by countries with fishing grounds and cash to spare. Palau has a population of 20,000 and a GDP of $246m. I
A total ban might hurt Palau, which is part of Micronesia, 800km (500 miles) east of the Philippines. Though small, its waters are full of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Japanese and Taiwanese boats pay to fish there, helping Palau earn $5m in revenue from fishing taxes and licensing fees in 2013. That is a lot for a microstate with an annual government budget of only $70m. And fishing revenues have been growing thanks to a regional negotiating block. Together, eight remote Pacific states control 14m square km of tuna-rich waters. They have forced Asian and American ships into a cap-and-trade scheme that boosts access fees by limiting total fishing days. In an age of collapsing fish stocks, the relative health of fisheries in the western Pacific has given island states a rare measure of economic influence. Palau’s bet, however, is that its fish are worth more in the water than out. Mr Remengesau doubts that small islands will ever capture more than “a drop” of a tuna fishery worth billions but dominated by foreign fleets. Ecotourism, meanwhile, accounts for about half of Palau’s GDP. Palau’s leaders hope that a national marine reserve will lure enough tourists to offset lost fishing revenue….
Palau has only one boat capable of patrolling its EEZ. Many tuna bandits escape detection. Technology could help: last year the country tested surveillance drones. The problem is money. Japan and America have helped fund enforcement. Both have an interest because of their fishing deals with Palau. But they may not want to fund a system that locks them out of its waters altogether,
Marine protection in the Pacific: No bul, Economist, June 7, 2014, at 46