April 2002



Landings from Palau's coastal commercial fisheries (estimated at 865 t in 1999) are mainly made in and around the capital of Koror. Subsistence fishery landings (estimated at 1250 t in 1999) occur throughout the coastal areas and outer islands of the country.

Estimated landings by principal site (tonnes)


Locally-Based Offshore Fishery

Coastal Commercial Fisheries



















All of the landings from the industrial tuna fishery (about 2,500 t annually in recent years) are made at Koror and subsequently air freighted to Japan or transshipped by sea to other destinations. 


Broad objectives 

The broad objectives in the marine resources sector have been identified by the government of Palau as:

  • Increase local employment in commercial, recreational, mariculture, and development aspects of marine resources;

  • Develop integrated resource management policies;

  • Explore local participation in oceanic fisheries;

  • Increase export of cultured and under-utilized species;

  • Develop marketing and monitoring systems for marine products;

  • Develop support infrastructure at strategic locations;

  • Satisfy local demand.

Overview of government management strategy

In the broadest sense the government management strategy is for the national government to manage those marine resources in an Extended Fishery Zone (12 to 200 nautical miles offshore) while the State and lower levels of governments carry out management within 12 nautical miles.  This is enshrined in Section 2 of the national constitution:

“Each state shall have exclusive ownership of all living and non-living resources, except highly migratory fish, from the land to twelve (12) nautical miles seaward from the traditional baselines; provided, however, that traditional fishing rights and practices shall not be impaired.” 

In the offshore areas the main national strategy has been to formulate and progressively implement a tuna management plan. In the past, active management has largely consisted of obtaining access payments for tuna fishing and encouraging the local basing of foreign fishing vessels. 

The inshore management strategy is a mixture of traditional management, conventional fisheries restrictions, marine reserves, and export bans. Many of the inshore strategies have been developed, and some times implemented, in cooperation with local and overseas NGOs. 


Offshore tuna fisheries management system

In 1999 the National Tuna Fisheries Management Plan was formulated for Palau. The Plan was officially adopted in 2001. The management system for tuna in Palau covers three species: 

·         Skipjack tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis

·         Yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares

·         Bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus 

In addition, this management system covers incidental by-catch and their resource and economic implications. The plan states that it is not limited to specific tuna fisheries issues; it includes relevant social, economic, administrative, and policy implications important to Palau. 

The three tuna species are also covered under several regional management arrangements and are soon to be covered under one international management arrangement. The regional management arrangements are:

  • Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions for Foreign Fishing Vessel Access;

  • Wellington Convention for the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Driftnets in the South Pacific;

  • Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region;

  • Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Concern;

  • Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery; and

  • FSM Arrangement for Regional Fisheries Access. 

Palau is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, but the convention is not yet in force, nor have the details of management mechanisms been articulated. 

The National Tuna Fisheries Management Plan has seven stated objectives. The objectives and associated strategies for achieving them are:

1.      Conserve fishery resources by controlling harvesting within international and regional recognized limits. Strategies: (a) input controls, (b) stipulation of criteria for requirements for registering a Palauan tuna vessel, (c) licensing, (d) applying the regionally agreed Minimum Terms and Conditions of Access.

2.      Establish an efficient government framework to harmonize the application of fisheries management polices and practices. Strategies: (a) establishment of the Palau Fisheries Policy Advisory Committee, (b) designation of the Bureau of Public Safety Division of Marine Law Enforcement as the national entity to enforce all national fisheries regulations.

3.      Minimize detrimental impacts of fishing on coastal and inshore environment. Strategies: (a) the Environmental Quality Protection Board to initiate a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate enforcement of national and state environmental legislation, (b) implementation of a Tuna Fishery Environmental Management Plan.

4.      Attain an optimum balance in relation to access and use of the resource between all stakeholders. Strategies: (a) establish priorities in the licensing of tuna vessels, with Palauan vessels having unlimited access, and locally based-foreign vessels the next priority with foreign-based foreign vessels having lowest priority, (b) prohibition of all foreign tuna vessels from within 12 nautical miles of coastal baselines and prohibition of foreign-based foreign tuna vessels from within a 50 nautical mile radius of Malakal Harbor.

5.      Enhance the overall economic balance between the necessity for government to generate revenue, the financial expectations of commercial tuna fishery interests, and the interests of other users of the resource. Strategies: (a) the agreements with the three locally-based tuna companies are to be made consistent, (b) consolidation of the many fees/taxes into a simple license fee, (c) creation of a stable investment environment.

6.      Promote the employment of Palauans in professional, administrative, research, and development positions in both the tuna industry and related government agencies. Strategies: (a) enhance knowledge through training, (b) promote value added products to enhance employment opportunities.

7.      Adherence by Palau to regional and international fisheries and marine resource commitments. Strategies: (a) Actively continue to support and participate in:

  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

  • Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks;

  • Compact of Free Association, Subsidiary Agreement Regarding the Jurisdiction and Sovereignty of the Republic of Palau over its Territory and the Living and Non-Living Resources of the Sea, 1994;

  • Koror Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Enforcement of Fisheries Laws;

  • Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America;

  • Convention for the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Driftnets in the South Pacific;

  • Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region;

  • Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Concern;

  • Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery;
  • FSM Arrangement for Regional Fisheries Access;

  • Secretariat of the Pacific Community;

  • Forum Fisheries Agency.

The main measures which are actively applied at present to manage the offshore fisheries are: (1) licensing foreign tuna vessels and collection of access fees, (2) exclusion of foreign tuna vessels from fishing within 12 nautical miles of the coastal baselines, (3) enforcement of environmental regulations dealing with the locally-based foreign fleet while in port (oil spills, rubbish dumping, sewage disposal), and (4) taxation of tuna exports. 

It is premature to judge the effectiveness of the measures stipulated in the Plan as it has not yet been fully implemented.  Specific measures, such as the licensing of foreign vessels and collection of access fees, have been in place for almost two decades. They appear to be reasonably successful but any increase in effectiveness is likely to require a large increase in expenditure on patrols of the tuna fishing grounds.

According to the National Tuna Fisheries Management Plan, several entities are responsible for enforcing the various management measures.  The Bureau of Public Safety Division of Marine Law Enforcement (MLE) is the overall national entity to coordinate the enforcement of all national fisheries regulations.  For licensing issues, the MLE coordinates with the Palau Maritime Agency of the Ministry of Resources and Development, and for inshore marine pollution issues with the Environmental Quality Protection Board.

The mechanism for stakeholder input in the National Tuna Fisheries Management Plan is through the Palau Fisheries Policy Advisory Committee. The PFPAC is comprised of all major stakeholders in the tuna fishery, including the private sector.  The Plan was formulated by the Development Committee for a Palau National Tuna Management Plan which also had broad stakeholder participation, including the private sector. 

Information is acquired for management decisions in a number of ways. Licensed operators are obliged to record and submit daily records of fishing activity, including of catch of all species and fishing effort. From time to time licensed operators are required to carry an observer who collects information on fishing activities for stock assessment, research and monitoring purposes. The Marine Resources Division works in cooperation with SPC to collect length-frequency, catch composition and species composition data, for the purposes of logbook data validation, stock assessment and research. There are currently four port samplers in Palau collecting tuna-related data. This information is analyzed primarily by SPC, which periodically reports to the Marine Resources Division   

Inshore fisheries management system

There is no well-articulated “management system” for the inshore fisheries in Palau. Because most of the management that does occur in the inshore areas has a similar legal basis, uses similar types of interventions, and is constrained by many of the same factors, it could be categorized as a “system” for discussion purposes.  

The management system covers a vast array of marine resources. The most important are reef finfish, pelagic fish, mangrove crab, lobster, trochus, giant clam, beche-de-mer, and other invertebrates. According to the domestic fisheries statistics program of the Division of Marine Resources, the most important reef fish are barracuda, eel, emperor, goatfish, grouper, jacks, jobfish, mackerel, milkfish, mojarra, mullet, parrotfish, rabbitfish, ray, rudderfish, sardines, scad, sea bream, snapper, surgeonfish, trevally, unicornfish, and wrasse. 

There are no bilateral or regional management arrangements in force with respect to the species covered by this fisheries management system. 

Some indication of the general goals of government management of inshore fisheries are given in the national development plan: “to reach a sustainable compromise concerning allocation amongst the contending needs of users, and to balance the rates of extraction for subsistence and commercial sales with the maintenance of a healthy and diverse ecosystem”. 

The various state and traditional management systems in Palau have a variety of objectives, but resources conservation for food is often a major goal.  Due to declines in abundance of many marine resources (especially groupers) and encouragement from conservation groups, species and habitat conservation is becoming increasing important as a management goal. Ngiwal State, for example, enacted the Ngiwal State Conservation Act of 1997 which as one of the stated objectives has the recovery of depleted marine food species and the conservation of habitats 

One major aspect of the fisheries management strategy in Palau is the partitioning of authority between the national government and the sixteen states. The constitution in effect gives the states authority over the fisheries resources within the 12 mile zone, subject to two provisions: (1) highly migratory fish are excluded from the jurisdiction of states, and (2) in the exercising of the states’ authority, traditional fishing rights and practices must not be impaired. 

At the national level the main management strategies for marine resources management and development, according the Division of Marine Resources, are:

  • Initiatives to increase private sector employment and income generating opportunities;

  • Development of socially and environmentally sensitive resource management policies;

  • Diversion of fishing effort from inshore to offshore activities;

  • Resource surveys and product development to expand the resource base;

  • Development of marine conservation awareness programs;

  • Improved methods of product handling;

  • Encourage active participation by state governments in marine resource development, management, and conservation;

  • Encourage rationalization of shore-based infrastructure;

  • Increase local personnel training opportunities.

The Palau Conservation Society has articulated the general management strategies for inshore marine resources:

  • Putting some areas off-limits to fishing;

  • Limiting the overall harvest of inshore resources through restrictions on both harvests and exports;

  • Restricting fishing in order to accommodate activities that provide better returns, such as diving and catch-and-release sportfishing.

The Marine Protection Act of 1994 is the basis for much of the management measures for the inshore fisheries at the national level.  It places restrictions on fishing gear, fishing seasons, and exports of certain threatened fish and shellfish.

The measures applied to manage inshore resources at the local level in Palau vary considerably from state to state.  The five most important measures used in Kayangel Village in the state of Kayangel in the north of Palau could be considered typical:

  • No entry or harvesting in the Ngaruangel conservation area for three years
  • Ban on commercial fishing in Kayangel Lagoon
  • Ban on taking giant clams placed in front of village houses
  • Discouragement of taking turtle eggs in excess to community needs
  • Ban on gillnetting in area

Two inshore management measures in Palau require additional comment: the export ban on certain species (national level) and marine protected areas (both national and state).  The export of certain species is thought to be particularly important, given Palau’s proximity to almost insatiable Asian markets. It is also quite effective as a single enforcement agent at the airport is more effective than dozens of agents scattered around Palau. 

Palau has been a leader in marine protected areas. The Ngerukewid Islands Wildlife Preserve in the Rock Islands was established over 40 years ago.  In the late 1990s there were eight of these marine protected areas, of which two were administered by the national government. 

In general, the national level measures are enforced in the field by Marine Law Enforcement officials.  State police enforce the state measures. Traditional enforcement is much less structured, but usually involves community members passing information on violation of rules to traditional authorities. 

Stakeholder input into the decision making process at the national level is largely through representation in the Olbiil Era Kelulau, or national legislature, while that at the local level it is through close ties to traditional leaders.

Information for management decisions at the national level is acquired through a variety of means, including the domestic fisheries statistics program of the Marine Resources Division and specialized surveys, often carried out with outside technical expertise (The Nature Conservancy and the University of Guam being the most prominent). Information for decisions at the local level is mostly obtained through visual inspection and from catch rates.  


The main fishery legislation of Palau is contained in the Constitution and in three components of the Palau National Code.

The Constitution of the Republic of Palau states that “each state shall have exclusive ownership of all living and non-living resources, except highly migratory fish, from the land to twelve (12) nautical miles seaward from the traditional baselines; provided, however, that traditional fishing rights and practices shall not be impaired.”

The Palau National Code deals with fisheries management in three areas:

·         Title 24 - Environmental Protection

Division 2: Wildlife Protection

Chapter 12: Protected Sea Life

Chapter 13: Illegal Methods of Capture

·         Title 27 - Fishing

Division 1: Foreign Fishing

Chapter 1: Fishery Zones and Regulation of Foreign Fishing

Subchapter I:    General Provisions

Subchapter II:   Palau Maritime Authority

Subchapter III:  Fishery Zones

Subchapter IV:  Regulation of Foreign Fishing

Subchapter V:   Enforcement and Penalties

Division 2: Domestic Fishing

Chapter 10: District Entities for Development of Marine Resources

Chapter 11: Palau Fishing Authority

Subchapter I:    General Provisions

Subchapter II:  The Authority

Subchapter III: Administration of Authority

·         Marine Protection Act (1994) has provisions for restrictions on fishing gear, fishing seasons, and exports of certain threatened fish and shellfish.  


The main government investment in fisheries is in basic infrastructure, including fisheries wharves and refrigeration facilities.

The largest private sector investments are those made by the companies involved in tuna longlining. With most of the vessels being chartered from China, the major assets of the three main tuna companies are their processing/packing facilities. 

For the small-scale commercial coastal fisheries, the major investments are in fiberglass skiffs, outboard engines, and fishing gear.

There is little information on subsidies in fisheries in Palau.   The ice provided to fishers by the various aid-provided fisheries centers around the country could be considered a subsidy, as the commercial cost of the ice would likely be greater.   


Projections for the supply and demand for fish are unavailable for Palau. Nevertheless, some crude estimates can be made by combining present fish consumption information with forecasts for population increases.  

The population of Palau in 2000 was 19,500.  Depending on migration and changes in fertility, the 2025 population is likely to be between 25,600 and 30,800.  Taking the midpoint, this would be 1.47 times the 2000 population.  

There have been several attempts to estimate per capita fish consumption in Palau.  During the last two decades most of these estimates indicated an annual per capita consumption (whole fish weight equivalent ) of between 84 kg and 135 kg for the entire country.

If it is assumed that annual per capita consumption is 110 kg, then Palau consumed about 2,145t of fish in 2000.  If the population expands 1.47 times between 2000 and 2025 as indicated above, and per capita fish consumption remains the same as in 2000, about 3,153t of fish will be required in 2025.


Several agencies share responsibility for the development and management of living marine resources in Palau, as shown in the diagram.

All the above organisations are headquartered in Koror, Palau’s capital.  In late 2001 a restructuring of the executive branch of government was in progress.  It is likely that changes will be made affecting the various agencies dealing with fisheries.