Posted on 25 September 2013
WWF and the Association of Professional Observers (APO) are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), for urgent measures to protect the health, safety, and welfare as well as promote the professionalism of at-sea observers assigned to fishing vessels as a way to reduce illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.
WWF and the Association of Professional Observers (APO) are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), for urgent measures to protect the health, safety, and welfare as well as promote the professionalism of at-sea observers assigned to fishing vessels as a way to reduce illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. Member states of the WCPFC, including Japan, China, the European Union and the United States, will meet tomorrow in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, to discuss problems related to IUU fishing and conserving and managing tuna in the region.
Both organizations expressed concerns over anticipated declines in funding for the observer programme* and observer support and asked the WCPFC and associated scientific and management support agencies to improve operational standards to ensure robust observer programmes.
“If we want to prevent IUU fishing and secure the sustainability of our fisheries for future generations, our fisheries observer programmes must be well-organised and sufficiently resourced. Fisheries management agencies simply cannot conduct adequate assessments of the fish stocks without reliable scientific data provided by observers,” said Alfred Cook, tuna manager for WWF. “Moreover, the fisheries observers must be well-compensated as well as adequately protected to do their jobs well,” he added.
Fisheries observers play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of fisheries resources through the extensive information they collect on the harvest of fish stocks globally, including impacts on marine habitat and sensitive bycatch species. They also perform an extremely important monitoring function that helps deter and prosecute IUU fishing.
However, faced with deployments on board fishing vessels that last weeks or even months, these observers are also potentially subject to bribes, harassment, threats, intimidation, and even injury or death at the hands of captains and crew who fail to appreciate and respect the observers monitoring and oversight role.
The role of fisheries observers in the recent successful prosecution of IUU fishing in the Pacific tuna fisheries highlights the importance of and the need for observers. Evidence given by Pacific Island fisheries observers helped secure judgements and heavy fines against the owners, operators, and fishing masters of six tuna purse seiners that had violated internationally agreed regulations imposed by the WCPFC.
“The observers involved in the recent prosecution should be commended for their courage and commitment to the resource and their profession for coming forward to testify against the IUU fishing vessels they were working on, which could have been at great personal risk,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, the Executive Director of the APO, an international NGO that advocates on behalf of observers. “Observers are professional field biologists charged with the important task of monitoring and assessing our fisheries and it is important that they are treated with a commensurate level of professionalism and respect.”
How the fisheries authorities handle threats and harassment against observers determines the validity and reliability of the data used to manage the fisheries as well as how successfully IUU fishing may be addressed. The Association of Professional Observers highlighted this at the 7th International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) held in Vina del Mar, Chile, this year and last week finalised and published a new International Observer Bill of Rights that offers a gold standard for fisheries authorities to better address the rights and protections necessary for observers.
“Observers absolutely must have unquestioning confidence that the regulatory structure, including the observer programme providers and management agencies, will stand behind them if they are subject to threats, harassment, or potential injury.” said Ms. Mitchell.
Observer coverage in the regional tuna purse seine fishery is near 100% in accordance with WCPFC regulations. However, despite similar regulations mandating a modest 5% coverage level on all longline fishing vessels by June 30, 2012, coverage is only about half that value today.
* Note: Fisheries Observer Programmes provide fisheries managers, research organizations, environmental agencies, the fishing industry and the wider community with independent, reliable verified and accurate information on the fishing catch, effort and practice of vessels operating in national and international waters.