FFA fisheries ministers progress observer and crew safety and longline fisheries development

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry News, volume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

The seventeenth annual Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee Ministers Meeting (FFC Min17) was held on 6–7 August 2020. In light of COVID-19 travel restrictions, this meeting was held virtually, with representatives participating from seventeen Pacific Island countries and territories. 

During this meeting, key activities and achievements of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) during 2019–2020 were highlighted including: implementation of the FFA Strategic Plan 2020–2025; addressing the impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries; progressing the Regional Longline Strategy action plan; FFA members’ achievements within the WCPFC; work to address observer safety and crew welfare; and work to further enhance the contribution of fisheries to Pacific Island economies, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Given considerably better fishery performance and higher economic rents generated from the Western and Central Pacific purse seine fishery compared to the longline fishery, Ministers welcomed FFA’s development of an action plan for implementation of the Regional Longline Strategy and identified this as a key priority.

This strategy aims to progress a zone-based management approach within WCPFC, with catch and/or effort limits established within FFA members’ EEZs, as well as binding limits set on the high seas. Ministers also welcomed the adoption of the Regional Longline Electronic Monitoring Policy, particularly in light of the suspension of human observers on vessels due to COVID-19 related health risks and travel restrictions, as a means of improving transparency of longline fishing operations. 

Ministers called for a strengthening of measures in the WCPFC relating to observer safety, including further investigation into regional options for ensuring observers are fully insured and that their families are supported in the event of tragedy at sea. Currently, observer safety issues are addressed at WCPFC through the Conservation and Management Measure for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers (CMM 2017-03), but this CMM does not address insurance or observer family support. 

 On crew safety, Ministers called for full implementation of the harmonized minimum terms and conditions on human rights and labour conditions for crew adopted at FFCMIN16 in 2019. These legally binding MTCs came into effect on 1 January 2020 for all foreign and domestic vessels operating in FFA members’ waters. The Government of New Zealand will support a comprehensive multi-year project aimed at improving labour conditions at sea in the Pacific region. 

The suspension of onboard observers and port inspection activities as a result of COVID-19 has increased the risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity in the Pacific region. Ministers highlighted the need to rely on other important monitoring, control and surveillance tools available during this time including aerial surveillance, vessel monitoring systems, as well as vessel of interest information and the regional surveillance picture, managed by FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre.  Regarding climate change, Ministers stressed that fisheries issues should be firmly placed onto the wider climate change agenda, including through the Pacific’s engagement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and that Pacific regional organisations need to collaborate more closely on climate change-related needs of the region