A fisheries scientist warns that a move to lift a 26-year ban and allow fishing of an endangered fish species for personal use lacks controls with loopholes that could lead to it being overfished and exported illegally to Asian markets, where the Napoleon Wrasse is a delicacy.
It is the most expensive reef fish in the world and can fetch up to US$200 per kilogram in Hong Kong and China.
But the fish is endangered and a ban was put in place in Palau in 1994 because of overfishing.
The bill currently before President Tommy Remengesau Junior, would open up fishing for a two months per year, allowing the endangered Napoleon Wrasse and also the Bumphead Parrotfish to be caught for personal consumption and traditional use.
Dr Yvonne Sadovy of the University of Hong Kong believes the bill lacks a quota, which could allow the fish to be fished and exported by foreign companies, if it is signed into law by the President.
“The way the bill is worded allowing a whole range of people to fish it, with really not good controls on the possibility of exports. I think there are massive loopholes that could potentially be abused,” Dr Sadovy said.
The bill has the support of Palauan elders and community members, who want access to the fish for cultural events and traditional ceremonies.
Fisherman Abraham Osima wants the bill be passed because he says the fish are in good stock at his fishing ground.
But a petition is urging President Remengesau to reject the bill.
It’s led by Christina Hepburn, a Canadian diver who’s been travelling to Palau regularly for the past decade says the absence of a catch limit and lack of monitoring are a concern.
She’s also questioning the science behind the bill and the estimated stock numbers of Napoleon Wrasse and the Bumphead Parrotfish.
But the head of the Palau International Coral Reef Center, Yimnang Golbuu doesn’t believe a two month season would have a big impact on stocks and is confident officials will be able to monitor fish numbers.
President Remengesau, who would need to sign off on the bill after it passed Palau’s Congress, said his decision will be made, relying on scientific evidence.