Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Increases Safety Standards for Fisheries Observers Working Aboard Fishing Vessels

Created on Sunday, 08 January 2017

In late 2016, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) took a step forward in improving fisheries management by adopting a new set of Agreed Minimum Standards and Guidelines of the Regional Observer Programand Conservation and Management Measures (CMM) for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers. Fisheries observers have frequently been cited as an important solution to preventing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, as well as an additional safeguard against egregious human rights abuses. Unfortunately, the challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions that observers face in order to fulfill their duties are less well-known. The Association for Professional Observers has highlighted cases of assault, intimidation, unsafe work conditions, and even murder of observers for simply conducting their duties.

The new minimum standards and guidelines adopted by the WCPFC contain measures to improve the safety and working conditions for observers aboard fishing vessels participating in the WCPFC’s observer program. The standards call for minimum requirements to be met by observer providers, observer programs, and WCPFC participating fishing nations in supporting and training observers, as well as standards for their safety. The latter includes a now mandatory emergency action plan for observers to specifically handle instances of intimidation, harassment, assault, and other safety issues; the provision of an independent two-way communications system; and emergency safety beacon.

In addition to the new standards, the WCPFC has also implemented a new set of Conservation Management Measures (CMM), which provides protocols to the flag states of fishing vessels participating in the WCPFC to address instances of assault, intimidation, harassment, and death of observers. In particular, it requires flag states to immediately take action to preserve the safety of the observer if they are in danger. Instances of abuse can be reported during or after the voyage, and flag states are required to fully cooperate in any resulting investigations.

Looking ahead, the new agreed minimum standards and guidelines and CMM are a positive step in addressing the safety of observers in the line of duty. By promoting a safe working environment, observers will be more empowered to act as safeguards against instances of IUU fishing and possible human rights abuses at sea. Those who support the important role of observers in the sustainable and ethical management of fisheries should applaud the move by the WCPFC while pushing for further safeguards for observers in WCPFC’s program and elsewhere.

For more information about the WCPFC Agreed Minimum Standards and Guidelines of the Regional Observer Program and Conservation and Management Measures (CMM) for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers, please contact info@fishwise.org.