A total of 800 fisheries observers are at the front line for Pacific Islands to effectively manage the multi-billion dollar fishing industry in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. While there were no specific proposals relating to fisheries observers on the agenda of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s annual meeting last week in Honolulu, the work of observers informs conservation measures of the Commission, provides critical data for tuna stock assessments to be addressed by the Commission, and is an essential element of effective monitoring, control and surveillance of the fishery, said Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) CEO Ludwig Kumoru.
“Having 100 percent observer coverage on all purse seiners fishing in PNA waters has been a game-changer for fisheries management,” said Kumoru of PNA’s implementation beginning in 2010 of the observer requirement for purse seiners fishing in PNA members’ exclusive economic zones.
Fisheries managers from different PNA islands confirmed the importance of observers to the effective management of the fishery.
“They’re the biggest source of information and verification of catches,” said Noan Pakop, the Deputy Managing Director, Technical Operations, for Papua New Guinea’s National Fisheries Authority. “They are our eyes at sea.” Information generated by observers about purse seine catches informs tuna stock assessments by scientists and helps with developing and improving compliance measures, Pakop said.
PNG has the largest observer force, at about 300 of the Pacific-wide observer corps of 800. Many of the smaller islands have observer forces ranging from 40-80. Initially, when PNA implemented the 100 percent observer requirement for purse seiners, there were concerns from industry and misunderstanding among crew about observer roles. “At first they thought observers were on board as ‘police,’” said Ace Capelle, who manages the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority’s observer program. “The industry attitude has changed dramatically. Now they see the observer role is to collect data, which also benefits the fishers and industry, not just the countries providing observers.”
Naiten Bradley Phillip, Jr., Chief of the Research Division at the Federated States of Micronesia’s National Oceanic Resource Management Authority, confirmed the change that he’s seen in the past two years regarding acceptance of observers by industry. “We haven’t seen any serious issues the past two years,” he said. Phillip added that the early issues encountered by observers with fishing vessels have largely been managed by fisheries managers meeting with crew concerning observer requirements prior to departure of vessels from port, and through annual bilateral meetings with fishing nations that allow for discussion of observer issues with fishing partners. Problems that do arise are reported to observer debriefers at the conclusion of a fishing trip. If the incident needs investigation, the report is passed along to the country’s enforcement division for proper investigation and possible next steps, said Pakop.
Ongoing development of the region’s observer program led island fisheries leaders to see — and gain — Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission endorsement of rules governing observer safety. At its 2016 annual meeting in Fiji, the WCPFC adopted a measure in support of observer safety that details requirements of fishing vessels in relation to observers. The WCPFC measure establishing standards and procedures for observer safety and treatment is a reflection of the significant role observers now play in the fishery.
The need to have enough observers to meet the 100 percent requirement for purse seiners and also to cover a percentage of longline vessels required developing national and regional observer training programs, and developing capacity of fisheries managers to debrief observers after each fishing trip. The PNA Observer Agency assists national observer coordinators with their programs, has coordinators in key ports who assist observers and debrief them after fishing trips, and ensures observers are equipped with communications and safety equipment. Two regional organizations are engaged in training and developing observers and observer managers.
The Pacific Islands Regional Fisheries Observer (PIFRO) program, managed by the Pacific Community’s (SPC’s) Oceanic Fisheries Program, provides and supports observer training programs throughout the region. Phillip said the PIFRO training program is excellent, providing observers with a solid foundation that the FSM follows up with regular refresher courses for observers in sea safety, first aid and data quality. Phillip emphasized the focus his office puts on observer training to improve the quality of data collection.
The Forum Fisheries Agency sets observer standards, funds training programs for observers, runs training programs for observer program managers, and coordinates regional policy on observer safety issues such as insurance coverage. PNA’s requirement for observers on purse seiners established one of the pillars of effective monitoring, control and surveillance work, which now applies in the high seas as a compatible WCPFC measure, and underpins good management of the fishery, said Kumoru.
“Observers are the frontline for effective monitoring and data collection in our fishery,” said PNA Chairman Charleston Deiye of Nauru. “They are a critical part of effective management for long-term sustainability of our fishery.”
Read more about this in the December 21, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.