More than a job: Latishia Maui-Mataora

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FFA’s Moana Voices series on women shaping the future of oceanic fisheries is edited, researched and produced by Lisa Williams. This interview for Moana Voices 2021 edition is with Latishia Maui-Mataora, of Cook Islands, senior fisheries officer and observer coordinator in Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources. It is published here to mark International Women’s Day.

“The excitement, the deadlines, the frustration, the people – the list goes on. Fisheries is not your usual 8 am to 4 pm government job. The work requires a radically different mindset because you are dealing with many moving parts, each with its own competing priorities. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of something, the obligations change, or new technology is rolled out requiring implementation … Many think we count fish all day, but that’s far from the truth.”

I’ve been seven years in fisheries and am currently a senior fisheries officer and observer coordinator with the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) in the Cook Islands. I had come from my studies in Auckland and a few years of working in high-performance sport and living the inner-city life with my husband. We had moved home to instil in our children the same cultural values we grew up with, and I was keen to explore a fitness or sports-oriented start-up. Not to be. With a small island market not able to handle my big business dreams, I was soon needing a paying job, and ended up responding to a call for applicants from MMR, who were looking for an assistant fisheries officer to run the Vessel Management System.

On the day I was interviewed, I remember walking into the ministry offices wondering what I was letting myself in for. I realised I knew nothing about the job title, and focused on just being me – keen to learn and take on new directions, happy to be back home, and giving back in a natural resource area that’s so important for the country. I must have said something right, because I got the call a few days later offering me the job.

I have never looked back.

In seven years, I have learned so much about fisheries and our ocean resources. My primary role as the observer coordinator is to manage the Cook Islands Observer Programme, which deploys trained independent fisheries observers on fishing vessels licensed to fish within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, and Cook Islands-flagged vessels fishing in other regional fisheries areas.

Fisheries observers are frontline when it comes to our tuna. They are our eyes and ears out on the water. They collect scientific data used to monitor fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.

I love the challenge! The excitement, the deadlines, the frustration, the people – the list goes on. Fisheries is not your usual 8 am to 4 pm government job. The work requires a radically different mindset because you are dealing with many moving parts, each with its own competing priorities. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of something, the obligations change, or new technology is rolled out requiring implementation. No day is the same at the office.

Most encounters start off with correcting the perception of fisheries officers and what we do. Many think we count fish all day, but that’s far from the truth. Our mandate sees us working with fishers to ensure the data collected is of high quality, boarding fishing vessels port side (in Rarotonga or Pago Pago, Apia, Papeete, Mauritius) or at sea, doing logistics for observer placement, serving on a round-the-clock shift for a patrol or operation, going into schools to promote awareness and fisheries education, and attending meetings to discuss the management of fisheries.

Opportunities are endless and I love talking about my job. During my seven years, I have been on several surveillance flights with the Australian, New Zealand and French defence forces. I’ve boarded fishing vessels to conduct at-sea inspections with the US Coast Guard in Hawaii, travelled to 15 countries to attend meetings and training workshops, and have worked alongside so many awesome people.

Special moments abound. Sitting in a cockpit of the Australian P3 Orion landing at night in Papeete was awesome. Seeing the runway lights from 100 nautical miles out, then 50, 20, 5 – and finally landing. It’s a memory that makes me appreciate and love the field I’m in.

There’s humour, learning curves, even a bit of irony to the claim that we are born seafarers –at least in my case. My first time at sea sorted out my thinking that I was made for the ocean. It was a rude awakening from day one to day seven. Jumping at the opportunity to board Arago, a French patrol vessel, I told many who had been to sea before me that I didn’t need the seasickness pills, cabin bread and all kinds of sea-legs support. I’ve been on so many boats, I told them. I will be fine. As we departed Avatiu harbour I was feeling great – until the first swells hit. For the rest of the one-week journey I was stuck in my cabin, feeling super tired and seasick. I laugh about it to this day and share that lesson with everyone. And of course, after that I learnt a lesson that applies on land as well as at sea: always take advice and support from the pros.

In 2015, I attended an Australia Awards Fellowship at ANCORS [Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security] to do with developing management capacity to ensure sustainable fisheries in the Pacific Ocean region. During the first class, I was blown away with the journey that we as a Pacific nation and people have had to endure through the decades, from receiving zero dollars to the creation of maritime zones and having sovereignty over our oceans. That history class was a pivotal personal moment for me. I saw myself in that class being part of why our founding leaders of the region worked so hard to take on the world and fight for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to create the global rules for oceans. It was an unforgettable moment where I silently acknowledged all who’ve gone before me and paved the way for future Pacific islands custodians of our ocean resources to continue the work.

I realised then, and at every meeting I attend, that the old saying “We are stronger together” is so true of fisheries management through regional solidarity – especially when we as small island, large ocean states are among the bigger and stronger countries. I want us to realise that just because we are small developing countries, we have a voice, and it is only as strong as the bigger countries if we stand together.

Although we have awesome programs in place to combat IUU [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing in the region, there will always be the “pirates” who try to ruin this for the rest. I would like my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to able to see and eat the fish that we have available today. If we don’t have sustainable practices that are both safe while still being able to provide economic benefits, then a change of mindset is required. Fish need to regenerate and be resilient to the fishing effort and catches. If the balance of fishing outweighs the ability of fish stocks to replenish over time, the bad practices win, and the vision will be lost.

As a woman in this field, especially out at sea, it’s a world of men. Sometimes, you are reminded of that. On my first vessel boarding to conduct an inspection, the captain was horrible. I felt so intimidated and nervous being a woman. It was a novelty for the captain and crew at the time to see a female fisheries officer giving instructions. Luckily, I had a supportive boarding team and colleagues who ensured I was safe and able to complete my part.

As the years progressed, I keep that memory of my first boarding in the back of my mind. It gets me through the moments when I need a tougher, stronger skin. The men may outnumber the women at sea, but one thing that outnumbers everyone is jargon. The language of fisheries is full of acronyms, my least favourite being the WCPFC, for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. It gets me all the time. To this day, I still mix up the F before the C and drop the P in the wrong place. It ends up starting as a stutter and finishes with the giggles. Speaking of which, my favourite acronym is BOJAK, for the Boarding Officers Job Aid Kit – it has a very cool ring to it.

Where to next? I am keen to keep progressing and to get some papers in fisheries management, so study is eventually in the plans. I plan to gain more experience before potentially looking for a regional role. To keep me focused, I often use this quote from Jon Steward as something to live by: “I want to look back on my career and be proud of the work, and be proud that I tried everything.” It inspires me to always give 100% to the task at hand!

Sharing with youth eyeing careers options, I just say give it a go! At times, many feel intimidated by the study of fisheries and marine biology, but I can tell you from experience that you will love it.

I encourage them to identify and treasure the role models in their lives, because I can’t picture my own without the role models who have surrounded and shaped me into the person I am today. My parents, grandparents, especially my grandma. I take lots of inspiration from my faith. Through my busiest, most stressful moments, a little prayer and leaning on scriptures for those moments of struggle goes a long way. Especially for helping you to get up and keep trying in those moments when you fall. Because those moments are just an unavoidable part of life.

I try to live by two things. Family is important. I make time for family and kids, and schedule like a ninja so I can avoid pushing family time aside to meet deadlines. Which brings in the second thing: time management. I use the calendar feature in Outlook for everything. There are reminders for meetings, report due dates, kids’ appointments, my appointments, bill payments and so on. Then I sync this to all my devices, so I am reminded even when I am away from my laptop. Thank God for technology! At the same time, although you can’t pre-plan everything, it’s amazing how much you can plan.

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.


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.


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

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,

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 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.

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