Obstacles to improved safety of vital tuna boat observers

As the Tuna Commission heads into its final day of meeting in Fiji, there is not much optimism for a favourable outcome on safety measures proposed for observers based on tuna fishing vessels.

Observers, many of whom come from Pacific countries, play a vital but dangerous role collecting data on catch sizes, species taken and other marine creatures that get caught accidentally.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency recommended several measures for deliberation at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission this week.

However late yesterday afternoon FFA Deputy Director General Wez Norris described it has a “fairly frustrating process of negotiations so far.”

According to Norris, flag states (generally fishing nations) are now trying to shift the responsibilities to countries that provide the observers.

“And that sort of goes right against the whole point of why we’re having this discussion. We’re having this discussion because this time last year we said here’s what we’re going to do to reform our practices as observer providers but we also want to lift the responsibility of Flag States,” Norris said.

There was also a proposal to change the requirement for insurance cover for observers where the insurance cover would be taken care of the by the observer provider.

The rule since 2007 is that the vessel operator has to ensure there is insurance cover for the observer.

“That’s an interesting one as we’re interested in doing exactly that. But the fact that it came up with the stroke of a pen would change eight years worth of practice was quite worrying to us. That was a specific proposal from Japan, “Norris said.

The Chair released a revised a draft on the Observer Safety Measure that was discussed last night.

The meeting ends today where the outcomes will be released.

There are about 800 observers in the region deployed on fishing vessels.

There is a 100 per cent observer coverage on purse seine vessels but less than three per cent in the longline industry, which is thought to be responsible for much of the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing which takes place, especially on the high seas.

Pacific observers have been subjected to intimidation, harassment and bribery from hostile crews.

Norris told Pacific journalists last week that they rely heavily on the information collected by the observers.

“We’ve been given very clear instructions by Pacific ministers that these people need to be looked after,” he said.

This was the result of a number of specific incidences including the murder of two Papua New Guinean observers.

We have pushed through quite a bit of reform throughout the year Norris said.

FFA members have a specific emergency response plan that they use as the observer providers. The responses range from liaising with the owner of the vessel to ordering the vessel back to port immediately.


Photo supplied: Observer on a tuna fishing vessel


Rita Narayan