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On-Board Observers Need More Support And Protection

The WCPFC is being called on to increase protections of on-board observers who are assigned to fishing vessels to reduce the amount of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The WWF and the Association of Professional Observers (APO) is calling for urgent measures to protect the health, safety and welfare of these workers.

The Federated States of Micronesia will host discussions between member states of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), including Japan, China, the EU and the US about the issues related to IUU tuna fishing in the region.  

Alfred Cook, tuna manager for WWF said: “If we want to prevent IUU fishing and secure sustainability of our fisheries for future generations, our fisheries observer programs must be well-organized and sufficiently resourced. Fisheries management agencies simply cannot conduct the adequate assessments of the fish stocks without reliable scientific data provided by observers.”

“Moreover, the fisheries observers must be well-compensated as well as adequately protected to do their job.”

Observers can potentially be subject to intimidation, threats, injury, bribes, and even death on board tuna vessels. But their role in recent prosecution of six US flagged purse seiners that had violated internationally agreed regulations imposed by the WCPFC highlighted the importance of their presence on board ships.

Elizabeth Mitchell, executive director of APO said: “The observers involved in the recent prosecution should be commended for their courage and commitment to the resource and their profession for coming forward to testify against IUU fishing vessels they were working on, which could have been at great personal risk.”

“Observers absolutely must have unquestioning confidence that the regulatory structure, including the observer program providers and management agencies, will stand behind them if they are subject to threats, harassment, or potential injury.”

While purse seine observer coverage in the Pacific region is nearly 100 percent in accordance with WCPFC regulations, only half of the mandatory 5 percent coverage of the longline fleet has observers on board.