Amid the ongoing challenge of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing worldwide, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has highlighted the need for collective action to tackle the human elements of IUU fishing, including safeguarding observer safety and livelihoods, ensuring safe and decent labour conditions for crew, and unveiling the “persons of interest” behind IUU fishing.
FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen made the call when speaking online to the recent Chatham House International Forum on IUU Fishing attended by global policymakers, researchers, industry representatives and civil society groups from across the world.
Her keynote speech concentrated on the human elements of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, with a focus on observers, crew and “Persons of Interest”.
According to Dr Tupou-Roosen, FFA is increasingly recognising the need to focus on people, not just technology, in its efforts to combat IUU fishing.
In terms of monitoring fishing activities, the FFA observers are the Agency’s frontline workers on fishing vessels, she said.
‘The importance of observers cannot be overstated as these are our eyes and ears at sea who collect critical data for science and compliance, such as monitoring catches and ensuring fishermen are following the rules. This is a vital role in protecting our oceans and preserving fish stocks,’ she said.
However, she added that this can be a dangerous and lonely role as they can face hostilities from those that they are monitoring, sometimes leading to incidents or loss of life.
Observer safety is vital
She stated that the safety of FFA observers is a key priority and steps have been taken by FFA members, including establishing conditions of fishing access to include minimum safety standards for observers and the FFA push at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for the adoption of an observer safety measure.
‘With the COVID-19 pandemic, the immediate impact has been on our observers. For their health and safety during this global pandemic, FFA Members have had to temporarily suspend the use of observers to monitor activities on vessels as well as transshipment of fish between vessels,’ Dr Tupou-Roosen stated.
She also highlighted that while these temporary measures are in place, the Agency still has an integrated suite of tools in its Monitoring, Control and Surveillance framework, including vessel logsheets, vessel monitoring system and transshipment reports to collect much-needed data.
‘The current situation also provides an impetus to prioritise work on tools such as Electronic Monitoring and Electronic Reporting. These technologies will support the observer’s role.
However, the repatriation of FFA observers due to the coronavirus risk has severely impacted their livelihoods,’ she said, commenting that the FFA will be exploring ways in which the role of observers can be broadened to ensure they are not heavily dependent on fishing trips for income and that their valuable data analysis skills can be applied readily on land.
Dr Tupou-Roosen added that for crews there is much work to be done to improve their working conditions on vessels. There has been a lot of coverage highlighting forms of modern-day slavery and she underlined the collective responsibility to address this.
‘FFA Members drove the adoption of the Resolution for Minimum Labour Standards for crew at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2018. Notably, this is the first regional fisheries management organisation to make a stand for crew,’ she said.
In June last year, FFA members adopted a landmark decision for minimum conditions of access to their waters relating to crew employment such as ensuring there is a written contract for each crew member, humane treatment of crew, decent and fair remuneration, proper medical care and sufficient rest periods.
Dr Tupou-Roosen stated that the work does not end there.
‘There has been much talk globally about improving observer and crew safety in the fishing industry but I suggest that we can all do better in walking that talk, and prioritising steps to ensure their safety and wellbeing,’ she said.
In her opening points, the DG commented that the approach to combatting IUU fishing has to date been heavily focused on vessels compliance history.
‘It is people who commit fisheries offences, not vessels. Vessels are just one platform for IUU activities. This is why it is very important to identify the “persons of interest”. Persons of Interest profiling, including information about the history and performance of persons, would be extremely valuable as a tool for proactive decision-making, and increasing the information for decision makers,’ she stated.
‘A key task in this project is to go behind the corporate veil to reveal beneficial owners, to ensure that key persons involved in a vessel’s IUU activity are held accountable,’ Dr Tupou-Roosen said.
At the end of the week-long programme, the DG made the call to co-operate to address the human elements of the IUU fishing.
‘I conclude with a call to action for all of us to build on this opportunity presented by Chatham House to work together on addressing these human elements. I have every confidence that we in the Pacific can persevere and be successful with these key elements at a regional level.’
Dr Tupou-Roosen referred to the Pacific model of co-operation which provides an example of what can be achieved.
‘However, this is not work that we can do alone. We all recognise that IUU fishing is a global challenge. The “people factor” inherent in our industry must be addressed in a more concerted way. The potential benefits in co-operation are manifestly positive,’ she said.