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.

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

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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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