Suspension of fisheries observers in place for Pacific until 31 July

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the total fisheries observer coverage on all purse-seiners fishing in Pacific waters is suspended until 31 July.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), in a circular memo over the weekend approved the extension of the measure, which was supposed to have ended on 31 May.

"This decision takes effect immediately once the Commission has endorsed it. The Commission will review its decision by July 31, 2020," WCPFC Chair, Jung-re Riley Kim said in the memo.

"In undertaking such review, the Commission should take into consideration Article 30 of the Convention and the safety and livelihoods of ROP observers, in particular SIDS observers."

But while the observer coverage was suspended, WCPFC said the Vessel Monitoring System requirements that applied to purse seine vessels during FAD closure periods would also apply to purse seine vessels which were not carrying observers.

The suspension was supported by Pacific island's Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member nations and the members of the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA).

"Thank you again for all your continued commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our observers while protecting the health of the tuna stocks of the western and central Pacific," the Chair continued.

"I am sure that your efforts and cooperative spirit will continue as we face the challenges of this pandemic. Keep well and stay safe."

In March, Pacific fisheries officials allowed purse-seine vessel owners and fishing companies operating in the Pacific to continue fishing without observers to avoid disruption in operation as a result of the coronavirus.

While measures have been suspended, FFA Director-General Manu Tupou-Roosen said FFA would continue to monitor and control fishing of the world's largest tuna stocks.

"Stopping the use of observers onboard fishing vessels during the coronavirus, crisis does not mean that illegal fishing will go unchecked," she said in a statement.

Pacific countries, she said, utilise VMS surveillance operations and data analysis to ensure that fishing vessels are monitored, and that action can be taken if required.

"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.

With the WCPFC memo, purse seines vessel were also permitted to tranship at sea in an area under the jurisdiction of a Port State if port closures and relevant access restrictions related to the prevention of COVID-19, restricted them from