More deaths on fishing vessels highlight lax approach by operators

Categories FeaturesPosted on

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.

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

Categories Media releases, NewsPosted on

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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