In a sign of its firm stance against poaching, Palau set fire to four Vietnamese boats it had seized in its waters for illegally fishing.
The boats were burned Friday morning, according to Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr.
“We wanted to send a very strong message,” said Remengesau in an interview with The Associated Press. “We will not tolerate any more these pirates who come and steal our resources.
Palau is renowned worldwide for its rich marine life and its commitment to protecting its natural resources. Palau created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, and Remengesau hopes to turn his nation’s waters into a marine sanctuary that would ban commercial fishing, save for domestic fishermen and tourists.
However, the tiny nation struggles to protect its natural resources. Until recently, the country only had one patrol boat to protect its shark sanctuary, and rising demand from China and other neighboring Asian countries has caused fishermen to venture into Palauan waters to prey on threatened species.
With over 240,000 square miles of territorial waters extending up to 200 miles from its coastline and a population of around 20,000, Palau is having trouble chasing off the influx of poachers.
Even with a sufficient patrol force, experts contend that enforcing fishing laws in the high seas, which fall out of the jurisdiction of any government, poses challenges.
Illegal fishermen will often net forbidden catches near countries like Palau, then flee into the high seas to escape law enforcement. While poachers remain more or less untouchable in the lawless high seas, some have suggested created a “geofence” system that would alert local authorities when fishing vessels cross into a nation’s waters.
The destruction of confiscated fishing vessels, often practiced by other countries such as Indonesia, is supported by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which has stated it will hold liable governments that don’t take action against illegal fishing.
Despite the country’s limitations, the burning of the boats is meant to show Palau’s continuing mission to cracking down on illegal fishing, said Remengesau.
Palua has caught 12 other boats fishing illegally in its waters since last year, often containing cargoes of sharks, shark fins, and reef fish. Many of those vessels were stripped of their fishing gear and used to send crew members back to Vietnam. The nation is also currently advancing the legislation needed to establish a national marine sanctuary and is investigating high-tech radar, aerial surveillance and satellite identification systems to better police its waters.
Palau isn’t relying on scare tactics alone to eliminate illegal fishing, but the poachers who get caught in the future can’t say they weren’t warned.