NGO Coalition Identifies Measures to Protect Fisheries Observers

Created on Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Santa Cruz, Calif. (June 13, 2018) – A group of influential NGOs working in sustainable seafood released recommendations for measures to support the safety of observers working aboard tuna fishing vessels, “Policies and Recommendations to Improve the Safety of Fisheries Observers Deployed in Tuna Fisheries.” First introduced in March 2018,  ten organizations, including the largest association for professional observers, have joined forces to coauthor the document: FishWise, World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace, International Pole and Line Foundation, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and the Association for Professional Observers.

Published amid reports of human rights abuses in some seafood supply chains, this new set of recommendations signals a groundswell of support calling for protective measures for observers and other seafood workers. The NGO community plays a vital role in identifying best practices and requesting reforms, and many of the groups supporting these observer safety measures have strong connections to the seafood industry and those working at the Regional Fishery Management Organization level.

Observers play a vital role in the effective management and long-term viability of fisheries by collecting data at-sea. Isolated far from shore, tuna observers have dangerous jobs where vessel and personal safety are not always guaranteed. Observers are in a particularly vulnerable position when they witness activities the vessel operator doesn’t want reported, sometimes triggering the use of threats, bribes, or intimidation. Tragically, as Hakai Magazine and CNN reported recently, threats by fishing vessel operators to observers are sometimes carried out and some have even been murdered or declared missing under mysterious circumstances.

Many of the measures being suggested in this document were drafted by observers themselves in an Observer Bill of Rights, a document aimed at outlining safety measures all observers should be provided. Unfortunately, few tuna regulatory bodies have implemented those measures. By supporting existing policies that could improve observer safety and security in tuna fisheries, it is hoped that this document will spur action by companies and regulators to prevent human rights and safety violations in the future.

The document is being launched ahead of this year’s SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Barcelona, where many of the world’s seafood experts from across sectors will convene to discuss sustainability and social responsibility in seafood. The document was funded in part by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Humanity United, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Several organizations lending their support have provided quotes on the importance of this issue as well as the need for continued reforms from tuna companies and regional fisheries management organizations:

“With the backing of ten organizations, including the Association for Professional Observers, this report represents a powerful call to action. Observers have asked for these reforms since 2000, and FishWise believes it is time for the global fishing community to stand up for the safety of the men and women that work tirelessly to support healthy and resilient oceans.”

-Tobias Aguirre, Chief Executive Officer, FishWise

“Fisheries observers collect the scientific information that forms the foundation of our understanding of our fisheries. Without this independent and objective source of information we simply cannot expect to effectively conserve and manage our collective ocean heritage. Given the tragic loss of 10 observers in the past 8 years, we owe it to observers to ensure these measures are implemented across all fisheries on a global scale.”
-Bubba Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Program Manager, WWF

“Observers play an important role in helping us better understand the small-scale one-by-one tuna fisheries that we work with and having suitable, safe working conditions on board fishing vessels should be a priority for the small-scale sector as well as the large. We have therefore gladly supported the development of these guidelines and encourage all stakeholders to adopt best practice in the fisheries they work with, based on these recommendations.”
– Martin Purves, Managing Director, IPNLF

“Worker safety in any occupation is a fundamental human right,” says Monterey Bay Aquarium Director of Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly. “the Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to join our colleagues in supporting the awareness and implementation of Observer Safety Best Practices.“

“Since 1995, the APO has strongly supported robust, transparent, scientifically-based programs that provide sound science to support sustainable fisheries management and reduced bycatch in fisheries. Because observers are on the front-lines of this data collection, it is critical that all stakeholders support their professionalism and safety so that they may work free from harassment and interference.”

-Liz Mitchell, Association for Professional Observers

“Observers working aboard tuna fishing vessels do a crucial job in securing sustainable fisheries, and it is vital that we guarantee their safety. Companies and regulators must implement key safety measures to prevent human rights and safety violations.”

-Steve Trent, Environmental Justice Foundation

“Amid rampant illegal fishing, overcapacity of fleets, and labor and human rights abuses, tuna fisheries need strong checks and balances. Observers play a critical role in sustainable fisheries, and, like crew, deserve safe working conditions. Seafood businesses have a responsibility to ensure that the workers in their supply chains are not abused or murdered while doing their jobs.”

– David Pinsky, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace USA

“Data collection is a vital component to ongoing sustainability work throughout the industry. SFP proudly supports any efforts to protect those entrusted with gathering data at sea, and we encourage our partners and other key influential industry stakeholders to do the same.”

-Tom Pickerell, Global Tuna Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership


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About FishWise

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