WORLDWIDE: The conservation organisation WWF is calling upon fishery managers to urgently address the increasing assaults and intimidations targeted at fisheries observers and to immediately take measures to ensure their health and safety onboard fishing vessels.
The NGO says it is shocked about the number of disappearances of observers on fishing vessels: marine biologist Keith Davis disappeared at sea in September working as an observer in MRAG Americas’ IATTC Trans-shipment Observer Programme.
Charlie Lasisi, another observer employed by the National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea disappeared while working on a tuna vessel in 2010; the body was never found.
Multiple African observers are reported to have vanished at sea under suspicious circumstances and have never received any form of recognition.
“Most observers never experience any kind of assault, but every observer who has been doing it for very long has a story of being threatened or harassed at some point,” said Bubba Cook, WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative Western Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager. “This is simply unacceptable."
The first opportunity to address this urgent issue falls to the 40 member countries of the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC), holding their 12th annual meeting 3 -8 December in Bali, Indonesia.
“Fisheries observers play a very important role, they are the 'eyes and ears' of our enforcement agencies charged with protecting our ocean resources. They also serve as the front line of scientific research, measurement, assessment and reporting while stationed on fishing vessels”, said Cook.
“Fisheries observers are not 'policemen' but they document everything that happens on the ship and have an obligation to report any violations. As such, they help us to better understand the health of our fish populations whilst, at the same time, ensure that rules and regulations are correctly followed,” the manager pointed out.
“Among other technologies, video monitoring and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) must be mandatory on all fishing vessels to create transparency at sea. These surveillance measures will increase safety for observers and can also demonstrate that the fishery is not involved in illegal fishing activities,” he added.
WWF asks all Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) to immediately adopt procedures to ensure the health and safety of fisheries observers, by implementing the International Observer Bill of Rights. Furthermore, member states must be required to report to the RFMO any event involving threats, intimidations, harassments and assaults, not to mention any disappearance of observers or crew participants.
Besides better Observer treatment, WWF demands for the 12th WCPFC meeting include adopting robust, precautionary harvest strategies for all tuna species to reduce fish mortality rates to an ecologically and economically sustainable level, as well as adopting conservation management plans to better protect sharks, tuna species and birds, and to establish a procedure to tackle non-compliance of monitoring and control measures, among other issues.