Palau burns Vietnamese boats found fishing illegally
The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, fighting a rising tide of illegal fishing in its waters, has set fire to four boats of Vietnamese caught poaching sea cucumbers and other marine life in its waters.
Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr., said the boats were burned Friday morning. He hopes to turn most of the island nation’s territorial waters into a national marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and exports apart from limited areas to be used by domestic fishermen and tourists.
“We wanted to send a very strong message. We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources,” Remengesau said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Washington, D.C., where he was visiting.
The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays fighting extinction.
The four boats destroyed Friday were among 15 Palau authorities have caught fishing illegally in their waters since last year with loads of sharks and shark fins, lobsters, sea cucumbers and reef fish. Several of the boats that it seized, stripped of their fishing gear, are due to carry 77 crew members of the boats back to Vietnam.
Remengesau said that the stream of poachers showed that just stripping the rogue boats of their nets and confiscating their catches was not enough
“I think it’s necessary to burn the boats,” he said.
Palau, about 970 kilometers east of the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest countries, its 20,000 people scattered across a tropical archipelago of 250 islands that is considered a biodiversity hotspot. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Driven by rising demand from China and elsewhere in Asia, overfishing threatens many species of fish. With 621,600 square kilometers of territorial waters, including its exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, extending 320 kilometers from its coastline, Palau is battling to prevent poaching of its sea life by fishermen from across Southeast Asia.
Despite progress in tracing sources of fish sold to consumers, about a fifth of the global market for marine products caught and sold, or about US$23.5 billion, is caught illegally.
Advances in telecommunications and vessel tracking technology have improved surveillance, but enforcing restrictions on unauthorized fishing is costly and difficult, especially given the many “pockets” of high seas in the area.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for illegal fishing and other transnational crime. It’s a challenge,” said Seth Horstmeyer, campaigns director for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy program. High seas pockets, beyond the jurisdiction of any government, account for nearly two-thirds of all ocean areas.
From Palau to Japan is a vast expanse of seas that nobody controls and nobody owns, areas that serve as refuges for illegal fishing vessels.
The Vietnamese fishermen tend to prowl shallows seas and reefs in search of sea cucumbers and reef fish and then flee back into those deeper waters to evade capture, Horstmeyer said.
One way to counter that tactic is to create a “geofence” using vessel identification systems that could trigger alerts when vessels cross into national waters.
In this photo taken Wednesday, June 10, and released by the Government of the Republic of Palau, Vietnamese fishermen gather near their fishing ships anchored at the Marine Law Enforcement Division Port in Koror, Palau after being caught fishing illegally in the waters of the country.