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United Pacific Nations Win Observers Safety Measure

Nadi, Fiji - A united 17-Pacific island Nation bloc attending Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) here in Nadi, Fiji fought bigger fisheries nations and won, paving the way for safety measures for fisheries observers.

Safety of fisheries observers, which was one of the Pacific island nations most important priorities, almost did not get the needed consensus after Japan initially disagreed to support it saying that the Japan fisheries’ delegation has no authority to decide on the matter.

Taiwanese longliner vessels licensed to fish in Palau waters. Photo by Richard W. Brooks

But emotional supporters of the measure did not want to lose the battle as they moved to have it on a vote, Friday night, Dec. 9.

One after another the nations supporting the measure gave moving statements as to why the fisheries observers’ safety is important.

In the end Japan agreed to the measure after getting a go signal from Tokyo, much to the relief of the 17-Pacific Forum nations.

In the span of six years, five observers died or were murdered at sea. Fisheries observers are hired to collect catch and bycatch data from commercial fishing and processing vessels.

The fisheries observers who died were Charlie Lasisi ,Wesley Talia , Larry Gavin all from PNG, Keith Davis from United States and Usaia Masibalavu from Fiji.

“First and foremost and what has been of personal interest to me is the protection of fisheries observers at sea when they are working out at sea when they are working,” World Wide Fund for Nature’s Alfred (Bubba) Cook’s program manager, told Pacific reporters hours before the consensus on the measure.

“Observers perform a very important role in that they collect the critical baseline information that fisheries managers use to manage the stocks in this region,” he said.

Ludwig Kumoru, Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) chief executive officer said that the observer safety measure is the good news coming out from the meeting this year.

“Observer safety is a huge concern for PNA nations, so we are happy this measure has gone through to protect the men and women who are at the front line of our fishery,” said Mr. Kumoru.

WCPFC Chair Rhea Moss-Christian said she was “extremely pleased” with what has been accomplished by the commission this year especially on the observer’s safety.

“I think that gave everyone the much-needed motivation and pride that I think this commission needed at this point in time,”said Moss-Christian in a press briefing on the last day of the meeting.

“While it was a tough process, I hope this commission will be remembered as one capable of putting human life above profit and politics,” says Fisheries Forum Director-General James Movick stated in a statement.

“I am pleased that Japan did the right thing in this instance, and I salute the solidarity of the Pacific members of the Commission in standing for the rights of those who are the frontline of our oceanic fishery,” DG Movick added.

The new measure protects fisheries observers from harassment and intimidation and requires that immediate help be made available to observers in trouble, including if they are sick.

If the situation is serious fishing must cease and all parties including the flag state and the boat involved can face penalized.

There are about 800 Pacific fisheries observers.

In Palau, there were at least two fisheries observers who served in tuna vessels in the past. They however serve on vessels of other jurisdictions. Palau is a member of the 17 nation Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA)

However harsh conditions at sea discouraged the observers from continuing to work.

According to the new Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) law a Marine, Control and Surveillance Plan will put in place measures to strengthen the Observer Program by purchasing 30 satellite phones for Palauan observers deployed to licensed fishing vessels, enabling a network of “eyes on the sea.”

“The presence of observers on fishing vessels is a valuable and cost-effective additional source of surveillance,” the PNMS plan stated.

Observers record information about the fishing vessel they are on, and this information can be used for compliance purposes. They can also provide information on the sighting of other vessels in the vicinity,” it added.

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