Pacific fisheries observers redeploying from next month

Posted on 02 December 2022
Munua, a Fisheries Observer from Tuvalu verifying catch data.
© Francisco Blaha
By Koroi Hawkins
DA NANG, 02 DECEMBER 2022 (RNZ PACIFIC) --- The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission has approved the redeployment of independent fisheries observers in its purse seine fishery from 01 January.
Senior commission executives confirmed the decision on Thursday afternoon midway through their annual meeting which is being hosted by Vietnam in Da Nang.
Prior to the pandemic the WCPFC - also known as the Pacific Tuna Commission - had boasted 100 percent observer coverage in the fishery but this dropped to zero in 2020 with the suspension of the program due to the impacts of Covid-19.
The World-Wide Fund for Nature's Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager Bubba Cook is taking part in this year's commission meeting. He welcomed the decision.
"I think it's very important to have observers on board these vessels, because they are the eyes and ears of our management agencies and our enforcement agencies," Cook said.
"They play an incredibly important role in getting us information that ultimately contributes to good stock assessments, good science, and also monitoring control and surveillance of the fleets at sea."
It is important to stress that the observers being redeployed from the first of January are only returning to purse seine vessels and not longliners - the other type of fishing vessel the commission concerns itself with in the Pacific.
Unlike the 100 percent observer coverage achieved on purse seiners the commission had struggled to meet its own five percent observer coverage conservation measure pre-covid.
The executive director of the commission Feleti Teo said the dynamics are the same now as they were then.
"Our longline observer coverage is always a difficult one. And that's why the commission is moving very quickly on electronic monitoring. So that at least there is an alternative option to provide the data gaps on long line," Teo said.
But it is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows. Fishing is still one of the most dangerous occupations on the planet and an independent observer documenting and reporting on fishing violations committed by a captain and crew is in an awkward position at the best of times.
Bubba Cook said while it is important to get eyes back on the fishery observers need to be redeployed safely.
"And in this case, you know, safe redeployment means that they're fully vaccinated, that they're fully informed on what steps they can take to ensure their safety and security on board the vessel," he said.
He said this is both with respect to observer personal safety and interactions with the crew as well as with the virus Covid-19 itself.
"But also ensuring that they have the appropriate equipment that's required by regulations such as the two-way satellite communicators and the personal locator beacons and associated safety equipment like life preservers and that kind of thing."
There are still two days of meetings to go in Da Nang.
One of the final things to be decided will be the appointment of a new chair for the regional fisheries organisation.
The outgoing chair Jung-re Riley Kim from South Korea has helped steer the commission through uncharted waters these past four years.
She said she is pleased with the overall progress being made in this their first in-person meeting since being hosted by Papua New Guinea in 2019.
"In Port Moresby, the Commission adopted a resolution on climate change. And to deliver on that commitment outlined in the resolution. This year, the Commission agreed to have standing agenda items related to climate change responses not only in the scientific committee, but also in TCC [Technical and Compliance Committee] and northern committee and the Commission," Kim said.
Also, she said work on new a management measure for the purse seine fishery was also progressing well and she was optimistic this would be completed by Saturday.
"A management procedure for skipjack is one of the most important tasks that we have to do this year. And there is a small working group formed to specifically address that issue, which is being led by the Marshall Islands," she said.
Another major item before the commission is the first ever conservation management measure looking at crew welfare.
The Pacific Tuna Commission is the first regional fisheries management organisation in the world to even consider crew welfare and Jung-re Riley Kim said she was hoping for progress on this front.
"WCPFC is leading on this front and labour issues can no longer separate from fisheries related issues, because they are about the people and the environment. So, I hope some progress can be made and set an example to other fisheries organisations," she said.
Other fisheries management organisations around the world maintain the position that their mandate is solely to manage fisheries stock and not crew welfare and human rights issues.
Some of the other agenda items still before the commission as it resumes today include revising its harvest strategy work plan, a review of its compliance monitoring scheme and management procedure issues for other species such as sharks, seabirds, and cetaceans.
"So, I think we are making good progress on the agenda that we have set for ourselves this year," said Kim.
Together, the 26 member countries that make up this regional fisheries management organisation are responsible for the world's largest and healthiest tuna fishery.
The engine behind this benchmark for sustainable fishing is the leadership and regional cooperation of resource owning Pacific Island countries.
But Bubba Cook said increasing geopolitical tensions in the region are very concerning and he thinks that it is going to be reflected in the way tuna stocks are conserved and managed.
"So, while I can appreciate the steps that have been made forward and certainly give credit to the Commission and the members of the Commission for things like observer safety and security and the crew welfare initiative and consideration of climate impacts and that kind of thing," he said.
"I think things are only going to get more contentious in the future as multiple threats emerge with respect to, you know, climate as, as well as, you know, geopolitical considerations that are the fallout of that climate impact, said Cook.... PACNEWS
Munua, a Fisheries Observer from Tuvalu verifying catch data.
© Francisco Blaha Enlarge