RACHAEL LURU - THE FIRST FEMALE PACIFIC ISLAND FISHERIES OBSERVER DEBRIEFER AND ASSESSOR

This is a story about a woman who was determined to succeed, no matter the obstacles. In this case it was to go to sea - even though she grew up in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and had never seen or lived near the sea. Rachael Luru, the first Pacific Island Fisheries Observer, Debriefer and Assessor works for the National Fisheries Department in PNG and this is her story.

I first joined the Papua New Guinea Observer Program in 2011 as a 22-year-old single mother, and underwent an intense nine-week Basic Observer Training at the PNG National Fisheries College in Kavieng, New Ireland Province. I come from the Southern Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea, where you cannot see the ocean or sea. My small village, Yaro is situated in Pangia District of Southern Highlands Province.

At first, I thought to myself that I was never going to be recruited because of where I am from – the Highlands, with no knowledge or idea of the sea. I think I was selected because of my answer to this question - “WHY DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD RECRUIT YOU?” My answer was “, because I am BUILT for it! Soon after that interview, I received an acceptance letter from the National Fisheries Authority confirming the success of my application. The letter was an invite to attend the basic fisheries observer training at the National Fisheries College. Believe it or not, I topped my batch of 15 other males with one female and was awarded a Sony digital camera. That is where the challenge began.

My first observer trip was on a Philippines flagged purse seine fishing vessel. I had to take the challenge to go out on a foreign fishing vessel with only male employees. It took a lot of courage for me to leave my four-year-old son but as a single mother and in order for a better future for my son, I took the trip. The vessel consisted of more than 30 male crew from different nationalities, but mainly Filipino crew members. At first I was at nervous and scared but I took the risk and sacrifice. I was aware of my role, my rights and responsibilities. I respected myself as well as every other crew member onboard. How I treated myself and the crew was reciprocated, and that was how I carried out my duties - without fear and with confidence.

As the only female onboard, the greatest challenge I tried to overcome was sometimes having to share shower blocks with the all-male crew. I would put up a huge sign on the door so they knew I was using the bathroom. I always make it my duty to avoid going to specific areas of the vessel. The crew were very aware of my gender. They were respectful and friendly but sometimes cheeky. I always maintained a professional approach and presentation onboard. Code of conduct is vital, especially in such a male dominated field.

Most of the crew didn’t really understand English. Sometimes I used hand signals, had to draw or resorted to learning some basic words in their language to obtain information, as this is a key part of my role as a Fisheries Observer. I admit it was quite frustrating at times, but I managed to face and overcome the challenges.

The fun part of being a fisheries observer is that, I get to travel to other countries and meet other fisheries observers from the Pacific.

In 2013, I was selected as the only candidate to take part in the Fisheries Observer Debriefers Training. I passed and was certified as a Pacific Islands Regional Fisheries Observer (PIRFO) Debriefer. I continued taking trips both nationally and regionally and to date, I’ve covered over 200 plus sea days and debriefed over 100 fisheries observers, both for national and sub-regional trips (FSMA and US Treaty).

In 2018, I was selected to study Certificate IV in Fisheries Compliance and Enforcement, which I completed in May, 2019. I will be graduating in September 2019.

In August 2019, I was selected to attend the two weeks PIRFO Debriefer Assessors training in Port Moresby. I passed the training as the 2nd best amongst 23 male colleagues, and was awarded a PIRFO Debriefer Assessor certificate as the first female Fisheries Observer Debriefer and Assessor in the Pacific.

I thought I had passed just another training but when I was acknowledged by training facilitators, as the first female Debriefer Assessor in the region, my heart jumped and I cried tears of joy. The feeling of accomplishment and relief came to me that very moment. This was my highest achievement in my career, in this very challenging role as a female fisheries observer. I have a lot of people to thank and acknowledge - my mentors at work, my parents, my bosses and colleagues who have contributed one way or another towards this achievement.

This journey wasn’t an easy one. It took me almost 9 years to get to where I am now. I would like to advise other young females out there, “what job ONLY MEN can do is a thing of the past.” You are not a failure. You have a purpose in life and all it takes to achieve your dreams, is to be a brave strong woman, who believes in herself, and is dedicated and committed. Never doubt that it is impossible, because what men can do, women can too.