WCPFC13: Pacific solidarity for Observer safety puts fishing nations on notice, says FFA

WCPFC13, DENARAU, FIJI ISLANDS 9th Dec 2016Pacific nations have put the global fishing nations on notice that the safety of Observers is not to be trifled with.
In the afternoon plenary of the final day, all members of the Pacific bloc condemned the inability of the Commission plenary to pass a management measure aimed at clarifying what vessels have to do when their fisheries observers fall ill, are harassed or intimidated, or die in the course of their duties. Their insistence to take the issue to a vote was accepted by the Commission Chair Rhea Moss Christian. Minutes before it was held, Japan announced it would agree to the measure, which gave it the consensus required for adoption.
“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 FFA Director-General James Movick.
“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 says.
Had it gone to a vote, this would have been the first case of the WCPFC voting on a measure, and “would have been a monumental occasion. Organisations like WCPFC usually work on consensus, so the threat of a vote was a very powerful incentive to drive agreement,” he added.
Work on the strengthened measure has been in process since it failed to gain traction at last year’s WCPFC in Bali. Since then, Forum Fisheries members have been firming up safety at sea for Observers with regional Fisheries Ministers in July coming out strongly on the need for more commitment and action. The Technical and Compliance Committee of the Commission was also dealing with the issue and more lobbying done by the United States, who backed it through the Commission.
Speaking to the plenary, FFA Deputy Director Wez Norris noted the “instant improvement for the conditions of Observers” if the measure was adopted, noting that “each time we deploy an observer, we do so knowing we place that person at risk, so it’s our basic moral obligation to mitigate that risk”. The 2015 measure builds new impetus into the current Commission rules for safety of Observers, stepping out rules for ships to stop fishing and head for the closest port if an Observer has a serious illness, goes missing, or dies while at sea.
“As an observer provider, we now have more clarity on what we and other observer providers, flag states, and vessel operators have to do in cases effecting Observer safety, and the provisions on sharing information and cooperation when it comes to incidents and investigations in ocean areas far from land, it is good to have the support provided by this measure.”
He says the measure is “a terrific start on a difficult issue. It is a shame that Japan’s position was so intractable that it gained a wide sweeping exemption from much of the measure, and we clearly have work to do to bring them to the same page, next year.”-ENDS
The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) strengthens national capacity and regional solidarity so its 17 members can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries now and in the future. Based in Honiara, Solomon Islands, FFA's 17 Pacific Island members are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.  Since 1979, FFA has facilitated regional cooperation so that all Pacific countries benefit from the sustainable use of tuna – a multi-billion dollar resource important for many people’s livelihoods in the Pacific.