FFA prioritises advancement of observer and crew “safety culture”

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HONIARA – While national and regional observer vessel placements remain suspended until at least 15 February, Pacific fisheries organisations are focused on ensuring that working conditions on fishing vessels are made safer for both observers and crew before the observer program resumes.

The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) continues to progress suspension of the observer program, as a priority of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC).

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) initially suspended the observer program on 8 April 2020, to protect the health of observers working on purse-seine vessels as COVID-19 spread rapidly worldwide. The suspension has been extended several times.

Heading into the recent 17th WCPFC meeting, which was held by web link, one of the key priorities of FFA and its members was improving the safety of crew and observers.

The FFA members noted that it was simply unacceptable that observers potentially continued to face risks at sea and to suffer persecution, serious injuries and even death in the course of their work, and that human rights abuses were suffered by crew working on fishing vessels operating in the Pacific region.

In a submission to the WCPFC before the Tuna Commission meeting, FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan said the members of the FFA were “committed to addressing these issues and are taking measures to improve standards in relation to fishing within our waters, and to create a ‘safety culture’ around the role of observers.

“It is imperative that the commission collectively commits to implement such standards on the high seas. We look forward to working with CCMs and with committed partner organisations to advance this work in the commission as a matter of priority over the coming year,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the governing body of the WCPFC.)

Disappointing decision on crew and observers at WCPFC

However, speaking to Pacific journalists at the end of the 17th Tuna Commission meeting, Mr Pangelinan said the FFA members had walked away with mixed feelings about the WCPFC decision on the safety of crew and observers.

This is due to the fact that before the commission meeting, members had hoped that all CCMs would share FFA members’ belief in the level of importance of observer safety and labour standards of crew and fishing vessels operating in the WCPFC convention area.

“Regrettably, one CCM [China] had legal as well as procedural issues about this kind of a measure being put forward by Indonesia,” Mr Pangelinan said.

At the Tuna Commission meeting, Indonesia submitted a proposal regarding the adoption of a conservation and management measure (CMM) on labour standards for crew of fishing vessels. (A resolution on labour standards exists, but resolutions are not binding and so not enforceable. It is mandatory to follow the provisions of CMMs.)

In its submission, Indonesia acknowledged that fishing crews were at risk of forced work, low or no pay, and human trafficking because of communication challenges, and the absence of proper training and of authorisation of wellbeing and work benchmarks.

In submitting the proposal to the Tuna Commission, Indonesia’s Director of Fish Resources Management, Mr Trian Yunanda, wrote: “Forced work and human dealing in fisheries segments are much of the time connected to different types of wrongdoing, for example, transnational sorted out fisheries wrongdoing and corruption.

“Another labour abuse factor is the expanding worldwide interest for fish and the quick development of modern fishing fleets alongside overexploitation. Fishing operators can have a competitive benefit by crewing their vessel with under-qualified and cheap members.”

“In the spirit of responsible fisheries management, an issue of labour abuse needs to be addressed properly and regulated accordingly, including within the convention area of WCPFC, through the implementation of conservation and management measures for labour rights.”

Mr Pangelinan told the Pacific journalists that, although the proposal did not become a CMM, with FFA members’ guidance and because CCMs were so vocal about the issue in the Tuna Commission meeting, they were able to carve out a hybrid intersessional working group (IWG) that would advance the work that Indonesia is doing.

“New Zealand will be co-chairing that process of working to address the concerns of that one CCM, in relation to whether the commission has a mandate to also address issues of labour and crewing standards and observer safety and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said.

He also confirmed that the FFC was convinced that it did have that mandate.

“There are many legal instruments or legal provisions of the convention that lead us to believe that that is the case. And we will continue to work with other CCMs to make sure that, in 2021, the IWG does manage to or at least continues to work on even an independent study that specifically focused on this particular issue in the WCPFC area,” he said.

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, said the intersessional process “is an important outcome for this commission, given the different views among CCMs on the mandate of the commission to deal with this subject matter.

“As the chair and our members have said in strong support for Indonesia’s draft crewing CMM in the past, in the lead-up to adoption of the Korean resolution, this is a top priority for our membership. And – we’ve said this before – it’s the right thing to do: it is the human side to our work and cannot be ignored. Work must progress on this, not just within our waters but also, importantly, within this commission on the high seas,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, right, at Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby, for the 16th Tuna Commission meeting.
FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, right, at Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby, for the 16th Tuna Commission meeting.

Top priority to get observers back on fishing vessels

Despite the mixed reactions by members on discussion on the safety of crew and observers at the Tuna Commission meeting, getting observers back onto ships is still a top priority for the FFA and the FFC.

Mr Pangelinan told journalists: “Obviously, with over 800 observers in the Pacific, it is important that we try to put them back to work and provide for their families, and being also the eyes out on the water.”

But while COVID-19 continued to prevail in the region, “the safety of observers is of paramount importance”.

“All these additional COVID responses that we’ve had have added additional burden on the secretariat and the members in terms of compliance and reporting. And so the bit of normalcy would be something that everybody would welcome.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case [at the moment]. And I think that, notwithstanding COVID-19 still happening throughout the region, some members were of the view that they wanted to still start the deployment, and get people back on the vessels,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“But we’re not confident yet that the commission has a robust guideline and protocol that all members must adhere to, to ensure the safety of observers as we slowly recommenced the deployment. And that’s why we called upon even other systems who have non-FFA members to show us what have they put in place that will provide us the assurances that observers will be cared for, taken care of and protected against potential contracting of the COVID-19.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that, in the meantime, a draft intersessional decision worked be worked on by the commission chair to be circulated by end of January or early February.

“The commission chair will work on some language that will be circulated before then to sit to determine what can be done before it [the current suspension] expires. This is something that our membership will continue to look at,” she said.

Members call for COVID-19 protocols for observers

The FFC had already established protocols and guidelines that it called best practice, ready for the day when the suspension was lifted. Most members had said that returning observers to vessels was a necessity for their vessels to continue to operate.

“But, obviously we’re just going to have to sit back and wait and see what happens,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“The commission is already starting to think ahead about how we’re going to actually do that.

Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.
Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.

FFC had called on members to share their national protocols “to see whether those match up with the kind of assurances we want for our observers – when they’re redeployed, whether they’re coming through their own ports or through some other ports – that they’re not a lower standard than what the FFA members have put together.

“We have to keep bearing their safety in mind and the safety of the populations of the countries that they’re also going through,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“The FFA is the only one that has put forward a credible COVID-19 response protocol and guideline that we would put our name on, that is probably the best practice. But we’re happy to continue to work with other members.”

He said that vessel owners and vessels wanted to see progress on preparations for the resumption of onboard observer work.

In support of the need to have all national COVID-19 protocols in hand, the FFA had asked other CCMs to share their protocols, so it could assess their standard .

“The goal is always to give our national observer programs the confidence that they can safely return their observers to vessels,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

How the Pacific fisheries sector managed to navigate COVID-19

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In a year like no other, the work to harvest and sustainably manage the world’s largest tuna fishery in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) has not been spared the ravages of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus that causes COVID-19.

On 30 January 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern, itopened a door to face an unknown enemy with a penchant to sow seeds of uncertainties. WHO declared a pandemicon 11 March.

Nearly one year later, the only certainty in a world awash with fear is that COVID-19 is still on the rise, with only a few countries remaining COVID-19-free – but at such cost. The global tally of the dead nears the 2 million mark, and the number of infections has passed the 70 million mark. The most powerful nation in the world has breached the unenviable milestone of more than 3,000 deaths a day. Even with the vaccine rollout that started in Britain last week, there is no confidence a cure has arrived, as two British health workers suffered severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine soon after.

Long reach of COVID-19 felt immediately in the WCPO

For the Pacific, the reality of COVID-19 was felt immediately after WHO’s 11 March declaration. Tourism collapsed: one of the region’s mainstay revenue streams was dammed behind closed borders and stranded aeroplanes.

And as Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs) followed health advice to close borders and enter lockdowns, nervous Pacific leaders looked to Honiara, the home of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), with prayers that their agency was working on a plan – on a response – so the same fate would not befall the fisheries sector.

Leaders knew that if COVID-19 also destroyed the fisheries, it would result in an existential crisis for most of the PICTs.

The challenge for FFA was to come up with ways to continue working through border closures, restrictive testing and quarantine conditions, which made it much harder for fishing vessels to continue to fish and unload their catch. The lockdown also made it very difficult for coastal states to monitor and survey fishing activities, and left businesses grappling with new challenges in transporting products to markets – and then some.

Redesigned tools and a redrawn map to weather the emergency

So at this year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission virtual meeting (WCPFC17), where the 24 PICTs join the other 17 nations making up the Tuna Commission, there is relief and belief that the WCPO fishery will weather this one-in-a-hundred-year global emergency.

There is relief that FFA and its partners, with the support and guidance of PICTs fisheries agencies, have managed to redraw a map now pocked with COVID-19 reefs, and to navigate a safe passage through them.

And there is a belief that the work to recalibrate current tools has enabled Pacific members, and the WCPFC as a whole, to better sail the COVID-19 waters. At the same time, they have quickly learned to use the lessons and experience so far to better prepare for more troubled waters that experts forecast are ahead.

A brief view of the redrawn map and redesigned tools was provided to regional journalists end of last week at a virtual media conference with the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan; the Director-General of FFA, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen; and the Deputy Director-General of FFA, Mr Matt Hooper.

Following are some highlights of what the FFA leaders had to say.

The map redrawn using a virtual work platform

FFA began to focus on using a virtual platform to transact work and business in March. April was a transitioning period. By May, Tuna Commission work processes had been successfully transferred and were being transacted on virtual platforms.

Mr Pangelinan outlined the difficulties, some of which continue. He said: “Internet connectivity in the Pacific is not the best in the world … Some of the most developed countries themselves are having challenges with internet connectivity. And so it just goes to prove our point that trying to conduct meetings through the virtual platform, while I think is it has produced some very good results … has hindered our progress on developing [WCPFC conservation and management] measures. Given the limited time we have to have these discussions and agree on the ways forward, it is certainly a challenge with so many different interests.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “COVID definitely impacted our work program. But whilst it delayed it at first, there has been a lot of savings in the FFA budget, and that’s just normal, [as] a lot of our budget used to go to travel and that’s obviously not happening now.”

The FFA-led team explored new ways to continue supporting the priority activities of each Pacific member and also their individual and collective obligations to the WCPFC. 

“So, thinking of those innovative ways where we can continue to support our members … whether it is at the national level by utilising in-country experts to assist, say, for example, FFA or even the Tuna Commission, to continue to run the work at national level. Those are the types of opportunities that we’re seeing at this time,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

Mr Hooper said: “Transacting complex issues through virtual platforms is a challenge, and particularly for members with unstable internet connections or even unstable power, which has been the case for FSM [Federated States of Micronesia] in particular. 

“It has been difficult participating in all of these online meetings, and even in some of our discussions with developed-country members of the Commission. As recently as last week, I don’t think we had a single one where there weren’t some problems with people joining or dropping out. So it is really not the forum for transacting complex negotiations, which have the potential to have such a significant impact on the members involved.” 

Mr Hugh Walton, FFA’s Chief Technical Officer and OFPM2 Coordinator, summed up the discussion. He said: “One of the really big take-home messages here is the solidarity across FFA members and PNA in moving forward and progressing in these very difficult times. The way we’ve been able to build a home-team consensus despite the difficulty of the [new] electronic platforms, and getting used to the new platform. 

“So, hats off to the FFA secretariat and members for playing with a straight bat for progressing their priorities and getting us to where we are.” 

E-monitoring of longlining redesigned to be COVID-safe

One of the first tools to be redesigned was the process for monitoring the longline fishery. The observer program was suspended, and the commitment to the rollout of electronic reporting and the development of electronic monitoring has been prioritised to take up the slack. 

For electronic monitoring, FFA is doing this this by developing a costed-out work plan of how to deliver key elements. 

Electronic monitoring is in the process of being adopted for the longline fishery, with a further focus being on strengthening the safety component of the observer program. FFA has also been working out how to make the most of observers’ skills while they are stranded on land, to keep jobs going.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “It is important to recognise that, [although] the observer program has been suspended, [FFA] members have built an integrated monitoring, control and surveillance framework over the last 41 years. The observer program does not operate in isolation. There is a suite of tools, authorised officers that can be pooled, and our patrol boats can be pooled. 

“Even for countries that do not have patrol boats, they could still have surveillance on the water in certain areas within their zones. The tools we have can be realigned to make available further resources to all members so that they can plan out and implement more surveillance and enforcement activities during this time.”

Mr Hooper said: “We are taking steps to provide opportunities for observers to get back on vessels as quickly as possible, but also to engage them in land-based work, be it training or upskilling or looking at different ways that we can utilise their analytical skills until they can get back to sea. 

“It is about making sure that we don’t lose that cadre of highly qualified observers. One of the initiatives being looked at is observer safety at sea refresher courses.”

FFA was able to permit some monitoring and observation work to continue at fishing ports, such as this one at Apia, Samoa, by adopting COVID-safe protocols. Image shows workers on dock, some wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), next to fishing vessel moored alongside
FFA was able to permit some monitoring and observation work to continue at fishing ports, such as this one at Apia, Samoa, by adopting COVID-safe protocols

FFA explores new markets and better working conditions

COVID-19 has brought unexpected economic challenges to getting products to market. This has prompted FFA to explore trading potential in a Pacific members’ bubble, including opportunities in Australia and New Zealand.

As if on cue, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) came into force over the weekend, on 13 December. It is a free trade agreement that covers goods, services and investment.

“PACER Plus will be instrumental in supporting Pacific economies to rebuild from the devastating impacts of COVID-19,” New Zealand’s minister for Trade and Export Growth, Mr Phil Twyford, said.  

“The agreement provides opportunities for goods and services produced in the region to be sold within the Pacific and globally, thereby using trade as an engine of economic growth and sustainable development.”

Australia’s federal Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, added in a statement, “This trade deal ensures greater market access and lower tariffs across a range of products that will benefit communities, farmers, fishers, businesses and investors in our region.”

Australia, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and New Zealand are parties to the agreement. Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are signatories and will become parties to it 60 days after ratifying it.

Another opportunity that FFA is pursuing is full support of Indonesia’s proposal that WCPFC adopt a conservation and management measure (i.e. a binding rule) on labour standards for crew on fishing vessels operating in the region.

Mr Pangelinan said: “I do think that there could potentially be a measure next year if members really work hard on helping and supporting Indonesia’s lead on the drafting of its proposed measure.” 

Dr Tupou-Roosen said: “[We have] a good understanding of just how important it is for us to do the right thing. And that these human rights abuses are not suffered by crew that are operating within our region, and ensuring that the Commission collectively commits to implementing standards for the high seas.”

A win for Pacific members on rolling over the Tropical Tuna Measure

It is fair to conclude that, as of December 2020, Pacific fisheries have come through the COVID-19 pandemic not only relatively unscathed but enhanced in certain areas such as the re-imagining of compliance, monitoring and surveillance.

Another is the successful transition to a virtual work environment. This has provided a platform for FFA and its members to consolidate and table 10 priorities for decision at this year’s Tuna Commission.

The work not only serves the economic and conservation interests of PICTs, but also those of the entire Tuna Commission membership. This is reflected in the most sought-after outcome for this year’s meeting: Commission members’ support to roll over the Tropical Tuna Measure to 2021.

Midway through WCPFC17, the Pacific’s proposal for the Tropical Tuna Measure was passed. And by delivering on everyone’s best interest, the Pacific bloc also achieved its top priority.

“There are other measures that are equally important,” said Mr Pangelinan. “But the Tropical Tuna Measure for us is paramount. It is the biggest fishery in the Pacific.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen added, “Chair [Pangelinan] highlighted that it already has been a big win for all of the Tuna Commission members – it is not just FFA [members].”

Full steam ahead into 2021

Mr Hooper was looking forward to next week, hopeful that the positive feeling generated this year in FFA and solidarity by Tuna Commission members will continue onto the hard work needed next year – even if it is still dominated by SARS-CoV-2.

“This year, not being able to meet face to face has really made it difficult. There are a lot of fishing industry players that are feeling the pain; there’s a lot at stake,” said Mr Hooper.

WCPFC17 will come to a close tomorrow, Tuesday, 15 December 2020. The outcomes will give FFA a better idea of the scope and scale of the work ahead under the large shadow of COVID-19. Nevertheless, there is excitement about rising to the challenge of securing the fishery and its benefits for the people of the Pacific, stewards of the world’s largest and most abundant offshore fisheries resources. 

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.

More deaths on fishing vessels highlight lax approach by operators

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Recent deaths on tuna-fishing vessels operating in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have again signalled the need to improve safety and working conditions on vessels, and to introduce and enforce meaningful penalties for vessel owners that flout regulations.

FFA’s Trade and Industry News for May and June 2020 reported on the death of a Kiribati observer from “unnatural” injuries in March 2020. It also reported on the deaths of four Indonesian crew on a Chinese vessel in the WCPO. They died in 2019, but their deaths did not come to light until April 2020. 

Existing rules have been criticised for not going far enough to protect observers or crew, Trade and Industry News reported.

It said that at least one well-known voice in the region, Bubba Cook, of WWF-New Zealand, had called for a new approach to keep observers safe, since current rules and penalties were failing observers. Mr Cook said that using more electronic surveillance technology on ships might help. So might banning a ship from ever fishing in WCPO waters if an observer disappeared or died in suspicious circumstances. 

Trade and Industry News said that “the death of an observer must be reported immediately and can shine a spotlight on the situation, some incidents relating to crew death or welfare can go unnoticed for months or even years”.

Two men stand in open hatch on frozen tuna. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Two members of the crew of a purse seiner prepare to unload a load of frozen tuna. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

In 2016, FFA adopted harmonised minimum terms and conditions for access by fishing vessels (HMTCs). They are used to regulate fishing in the waters of the 17 countries that are members of FFA. The HMTCs make getting and keeping a licence to fish for tuna contingent on maintaining a safe work environment for observers. They give instructions on how to do this, and on what to do if an observer is assaulted, harassed, dies, goes missing, or is believed to have fallen overboard. 

The HMTCs were updated in 2019 to state that the operator of the fishing vessel was also responsible for the health, welfare and safety of the crew while they are on board, and for the duration of their contract. Crew members must also be given a contract they understand (for example, in their own language).

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) introduced a rule in 2017 that requires vessel operators and captains to immediately undertake the emergency action specified if an “observer dies, is missing or presumed fallen overboard” or “suffers from a serious illness or injury that threatens his or her health or safety”. It builds on older rules on how to help observers do their job properly

Trade and Industry News said the Indonesian Government tabled its concerns about “labour abuse” in a paper to the 16th annual meeting of the WCPFC in December 2019.

Under WCPFC resolution 2018-01, the countries of the region, and other countries that fish in the region are expected to enact laws that require fishing operators to provide crews of fishing vessels with fair working conditions, fair pay, and a safe environment to work in. 

The rules of both organisations reiterate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Two fisheries observers monitor tuna catch on purse-seine vessel. Photo: Hilary Hosia.
Fisheries observers monitor tuna catches on board purse seiners as well as during transhipment in port. Their work provides important data for fisheries managers. Photo: Hilary Hosia.

Electronic monitoring may help improve working conditions

Trade and Industry News said the use of electronic monitoring and surveillance technology and artificial intelligence may make working conditions safer for observers and crew. 

It reported increased interest in electronic compliance and observance as a result of suspending the observer program as part of COVID-19 restrictions. Observers are a lynchpin in keeping reporting of fishing effort accurate, and in the prevention of bycatch and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

The countries in the region have been working out how to make electronic monitoring feasible, especially for the small island developing states (SIDS). It is expensive, and much of it is not fully developed yet, Trade and Industry News reports.

The FFA newsletter also reported that Thai Union was looking at using artificial intelligence to detect IUU fishing and abuses of human rights on tuna fishing vessels. 

Bank of electronic monitors used to monitor tuna fishing. Photo: AFMA.
Electronic monitoring installed on fishing vessel. Photo: AFMA.

Tuna observers likely to stay off boats as concern for health continues

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By Taobo Amon Tebikau (Radio Kiribati News)

To protect people’s health, Kiribati and other Pacific countries are likely to extend the current strict rule that suspends all purse-seine fishing boats carry an independent observer.

Observers are important for conservation of tuna but with the COVID-19 pandemic still growing world-wide, travel to and from the boats poses risks to countries like Kiribati that have not had a COVID-19 infection.

In March, Kiribati and other members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement decided to suspend the requirement that tuna boats carry observers.

That suspension is due to expire on July 31.

But PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru told reporters this week, it is likely the suspension will be extended for three months.

“We had to make sure that our islands are safe and that they still have the operations going on because once the operations are going on, that’s our means of earning money,” he says.

Before the extension can be approved, countries that are members of the PNA must talk to the other major Pacific fisheries agency — the FFA.

“We’ll have to work together with FFA and have a common stance on who’s for the extension,” Kumoru said.

Despite the change to the rules about observers, 30 per cent of purse-seine boats still have observers on board, Mr Kumoru said.

Some chose to stay on board and some countries, like Papua New Guinea, have not suspended are still allowing movement of observers, despite closed borders.

Mr Kumoru said Pacific countries are still monitoring tuna boats through the Vessel Monitoring System or VMS andcan see patterns they make so they know if they are making a set that is against the rules.

Note: this news story was produced as part of the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting (FEMM) journalists’ workshop in July 2020.

Fisheries observer safety a key focus, as FFA wraps up annual meeting: media release

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HONIARA, 22 June 2020 – Initiatives to improve job prospects and safety at sea for fishing observers has been a key focus of the 114th Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC114) meeting.

The meeting, which was held over five days last week via video conference, comprised representatives of the 17 members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). 

Responding to COVID-19 and to climate change were also issues high on the agenda.

Observer safety 

One of the main meeting outcomes was a decision to study how observer safety can be improved in the wake of COVID-19, and how the role can be made more viable into the future. 

Said FFA Director General, Manu Tupou-Roosen: “Observers can spend several months at sea in often dangerous conditions. Improving their working environment has been a priority of FFA for some time but we have increased our focus even further as a result of COVID-19. We want observers to work safely when they return to vessels.” 

Dr Tupou-Roosen said job stability for observers would also be reviewed during the study.

“Many observers haven’t been able to work during the pandemic, which has increased their financial pressures,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen. 

“This new study will consider how the observer role can be made more sustainable into the future, for example better utilising the analytical skills that observers develop while monitoring activities on commercial fishing vessels.”

The FFC114 meeting also agreed that work include the development of safety protocols at sea and in port, with the assistance of SPC, WHO and IO. 

Work will also continue on the development of minimum standards for observer insurance as well as support to Members to investigate observer safety issues (such as death, disappearance, injury). This includes provision of information, technical and legal advice.

COVID-19

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic was also a priority item at FFC114.  The meeting noted that while the pandemic had created unprecedented pressures for Pacific tuna fisheries, it also presented opportunities.

“Like many other sectors, we’ve realised the potential for technology to progress work more efficiently and will explore new ways of working over coming months,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

[Click here for an interview with Dr Tupou-Roosen on the impact of COVID-19 on the fisheries. Copies of this interview are available for use by media outlets.]

Climate change

FFC114 also discussed climate change impacts on tuna fisheries, with a primary focus on adaptive fisheries management regimes.

The Committee agreed on the need for adaptive fisheries management regimes to be informed by the best available science on the impacts of climate change on tuna stocks and noted ongoing work on securing maritime boundaries, contributing to food security, and how to best use information collected on ozone-depleting substances used by fishing vessels.

Monitoring and reporting

The meeting adopted the Regional Longline Fishery Electronic Monitoring Policy, as a guide for Members to develop their national EM programmes.

The meeting also reaffirmed a commitment to progressively adopt electronic reporting for fishing vessels operating within Members’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and the high seas. The goal is 100% adoption by 2022, noting the need to cater for special circumstances of small domestic vessels operating solely within EEZs.

ENDS//

For more information and photos contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media,
ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int


About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management.  

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FFA calls for action to address human elements of IUU fishing: media release

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HONIARA, 28 May 2020 – AMIDST the ongoing challenge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has called for collective action to tackle the human elements of IUU fishing, including: safeguarding observer safety and livelihoods, ensuring safe and decent labour conditions for crew, and unveiling the persons of interest behind IUU fishing.

FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen made the call when speaking online to the recent Chatham House International Forum on IUU fishing.

The forum was hosted online in London from 18-22 May 2020 and was attended by global policymakers, researchers, industry representatives and civil society groups from across the world.

The keynote speech concentrated on the human elements of IUU fishing, with a focus on observers, crew and persons of interest.

According to Dr Tupou-Roosen, FFA is increasingly recognising the need to focus on people, not just technology, in its efforts to combat IUU fishing.

 In terms of monitoring fishing activities, the FFA observers are the Agency’s frontline workers on fishing vessels, she said.

“The importance of observers cannot be overstated as these are our eyes and ears at sea who collect critical data for science and compliance, such as monitoring catches and ensuring fishermen are following the rules.”

“This is a vital role in protecting our oceans and preserving fish stocks,” she said.

However, she added that this can be a dangerous and lonely role as they can face hostilities from those that they are monitoring, sometimes leading to accidents or loss of life.

She stated that the safety of FFA observers is a key priority for the agency.

Therefore, steps have been taken by FFA members including establishing conditions of fishing access to include minimum safety standards for observers and the FFA push at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for the adoption of an observer safety measure.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate impact has been on our observers. For their health and safety during this global pandemic, FFA Members have had to temporarily suspend the use of observers to monitor activities on vessels as well as transhipment of fish between vessels,” Dr Tupou-Roosen stated.

She also highlighted that while these temporary measures are in place, the agency still has an integrated suite of tools in its monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) framework, including vessel logsheets, a vessel monitoring system and transhipment reports to collect much-needed data.

“The current situation also provides an impetus to prioritise work on tools such as electronic monitoring and electronic reporting. These technologies will support the observer’s role.

A fisheries observer onboard a fishing vessel.

“However, the repatriation of FFA observers due to the coronavirus risk has severely impacted their livelihoods.”

Therefore, the FFA will explore ways in which the role of observers can be broadened to ensure they are not heavily dependent on fishing trips for income, and that their valuable data analysis skills can be applied readily on land.

Similarly for crew, Dr Tupou-Roosen said there is much work to be done to improve their working conditions on vessels. There has been a lot of coverage highlighting this form of modern-day slavery and she underlined the collective responsibility to address this.

“FFA members drove the adoption of the Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2018. Notably, this is the first regional fisheries management organisation to make a stand for crew.”

Last June, FFA members adopted a landmark decision for minimum conditions of access to their waters relating to crew employment such as: ensuring there is a written contract for the crew member, humane treatment of crew, decent and fair remuneration, proper medical care and sufficient rest periods.

 Dr Tupou-Roosen stated that the work does not end there.

“There has been much talk globally about improving observer and crew safety in the fishing industry, but I suggest that we can all do better in walking that talk and prioritising steps to ensure their safety and wellbeing,” she said.

When introducing her address, the DG said the approach to combatting IUU fishing has to-date been heavily focused on vessels compliance history.

But as the DG noted “It is people who commit fisheries offences, not vessels. Vessels are just one platform for IUU activities. This is why it is very important to identify the persons of interest.

 “persons of interest profiling, including information about the history and performance of persons, would be extremely valuable as a tool for proactive decision-making, and increasing the information for decision makers,” she stated.

A key task in this project is to go behind the corporate veil to reveal beneficial owners, to ensure that key persons involved in a vessel’s IUU activity are held accountable,” the DG said.

At the end of the week-long program, the DG made the call to cooperate to address the human elements of the IUU fishing.

“I conclude with a call to action for all of us to build on this opportunity presented by Chatham House to work together on addressing these human elements,” she said.

 “I have every confidence that we in the Pacific can persevere and be successful with these key elements at a regional level.” The FFA DG referred to the Pacific model of cooperation which provides an example of what can be achieved.

However, this is not work that we can do alone,” Dr Tupou-Roosen added.

“We all recognise that IUU fishing is a global challenge.

“The ‘people factor’ inherent in our industry must be addressed in a more concerted way. The potential benefits in cooperation are manifestly positive,” she concluded.

Click here to see the pre-recorded video of Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen’s address to the 12th International Forum on IUU Fishing, aired on Friday 22 May, 2020.

For more information and photos contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17-member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int

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FFA continues to monitor fishing amidst COVID-19 situation: media release

Categories Media releasesPosted on

HONIARA, 22 May 2020 – As Pacific nations face the threat of coronavirus to their health and economic growth, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has taken action to continue to monitor and control fishing of the world’s largest tuna stocks. 

A key tool in FFA members’ efforts for monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing in Pacific nations is observers, placed on board fishing vessels to verify catches, transhipment of fish at sea, and compliance with other key rules. 

However, worried by the threat of observers catching and spreading the coronavirus, FFA’s 17 member countries decided to suspend the mandatory requirement for use of observers until further notice, a decision later endorsed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. 

FFA Director General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said: “Stopping the use of observers on board fishing vessels during the coronavirus crisis does not mean that illegal fishing will go unchecked. 

“Right now, FFA continues supporting Pacific countries with other tools such as the Vessel Monitoring System, surveillance operations and data analysis.

“FFA member countries have responsibilities for the safety and health of observers, who are their citizens, often traversing international borders and regions, and to uphold national border control and shutdowns. 

“This is the primary reason that the use of observers has been suspended, and in the meantime other monitoring, control and surveillance tools will help ensure that fishing vessels are monitored and that action can be taken if required,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen. 

Vessels detected fishing that are not licensed and on the FFA Vessel Monitoring System (a live database tracking vessels through automatic satellite locator devices) can still be boarded and inspected to confirm activities are in accordance with the law. 

Necessary social distancing and protective equipment is to be used by maritime officers to ensure safety of these inspections. 

Chair of the Officials Forum Fisheries Committee Mr Eugene Pangelinan said that continuing fishing was a priority for Pacific Island countries, where licence and access fees are a major source of government revenue.

“Our intent is to do everything we can to minimise disruption of fishing operations in a manner where we can still monitor such operations, despite the COVID19 situation. 

“This will help limit any negative economic impacts of the coronavirus situation in the Pacific,” Mr Pangelinan said.

# ENDS #

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members, who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management. www.ffa.int

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