Tuna Commission urged to act to protect observers

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By Rosalyn Albaniel-Evara, Pacific Media@WCPFC13

THE job of observers posted on tuna boats has become increasingly dangerous as they have come to play a more important role in efforts to boost sustainability of fish stocks.
There are about 800 observers, deployed on purse seine and long-line fishing vessels across the Pacific.
After incidents of intimidation and harassment, disappearances at sea and the murder of two Papua New Guinean observers over the past few years observer wellbeing is expected to be a priority when the 13th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) gets underway in Nadi, Fiji this week.
Deputy director of the Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) Wes Norris told visiting journalists from the Pacific, these workers are subjected to harsh working conditions in the course of collating very important scientific data.
Mr Norris said the information obtained is usually for investigations and prosecution thus, exposing the them to a range of issues including intimidation, corruption and bribery.
One of the issues that will be dealt with is that of insurance. The FFA is keen to see observers properly covered with health and life insurance if they suffer accidents or illness at sea.
It is a matter of respect for workers who are the eyes and ears of science and law enforcement in the region’s valuable fisheries.
“We need to take them very seriously because what they collect (data) is absolutely crucial and we rely on the information very heavily, Mr Norris said.
“We have been given very clear instructions by the Pacific fisheries ministers to look after them.”
The FFA is not relying solely on the WCPFC for action.
As a result of incidents brought to the attention of authorities reforms have been put in place this year.
Mr Norris said FFA, as a provider of observers, has devised an emergency response plan in the event urgent word is received from one of these workers.
Responses range from liaising with the boat owner to ordering the master of the vessel to bring the vessel into port immediately to face compliance action.
As well as the FFA reforms Mr Norris said a holistic region-wide approach is needed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of observers.
“We see a strong need for the commission to have specific rules in place for flag states and fishing companies to take specific actions as a way of protecting the interest of our observers. This is a measure that the US has prepared on behalf of the commission that is on the table” Mr Norris said.
Views differ among stakeholders in the fishery but Mr Norris said is still hopeful progress will be made.