10 Dec 2016

Safety measures for Pacific fishing observers agreed

12:42 pm on 10 December 2016
Yellow Fin tuna

Yellow Fin tuna Photo: RNZI

The Pacific Tuna Commission has voted to improve safety for observers who work on fishing vessels in the region.

The observers play a critical part in the management and conservation of tuna species in the Pacific..

Five observers on board fishing vessels licensed to fish in the Western and Central Pacific region have died in the last six years.

The Commission, formally called the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, brings together the distant water fishing nations and Pacific countries and has just concluded its annual meeting in Nadi.

The observer safety measure was nearly lost on the last day, when Japan said the matter of transportation for the observers was the responsibility of another ministry and its delegation did not have authority to make a decision.

But a series of emotional statements from Pacific governments and a moving statement from the WWF's Bubba Cook turned the meeting.

Mr Cook said the support from the United States delegation and the Forum Fisheries Agency was key. "Particularly for the Forum Fisheries Agency to take the unprecedented step of demanding a vote on that issue."

He said "I think that is a huge step symbolically. I think what they have done is perform a haka in front of the distant water fishing nations and they let them know that they are not going to be pushed around on the issues that are important to them and I think that is a very important step."

Mr Cook says he hopes the decision is about more than observer safety.

WWF's Bubba Cook

WWF's Bubba Cook Photo: RNZI/Monica Miller

He said "I am glad that we have got it and I am glad that we have the protections that have been needed for the observers for a long time, But I think this is bigger, this is about the Pacific Islands finally flexing their muscles and saying this is ours and we are going to protect it."

The data the observers send to authorities helps with an understanding of fish stocks and compliance with fishing rules.

The names of Wesley Talia, Larry Gavin and Charlie Lasisi of Papua New Guinea, Usaia Masibalavu from Fiji and Keith David from the USA were in the minds of their island delegates when the Tuna Commission voted.

The measure means that for the first time observers will know if they get sick or are harassed or intimidated by hostile crew they have a safety net onshore that will swing into action to help them.

The nation providing observers, the flag state of the boat on which they serve and the coastal state in which they are fishing all have obligations to assist.