MAJURO,31 JULY 2017 (POST COURIER) — The recent loss of a fisheries observer from a purse seine vessel in Nauru waters is a tragic development that confirms the importance of action taken by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement or PNA to protect observers, said its CEO.


Although Nauru police said review of video from the Chinese flagged Feng Xiang 818 did not suggest foul play in the death of fisheries observer James Junior Numbaru of Papua New Guinea, PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said in Majuro PNA has been stepping up action to improve the safety of these independent observers who monitor fish catches on all 300 purse seiners operating in PNA waters.

PNA controls ocean zones where half of the world’s skipjack tuna is caught, from Papua New Guinea, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia in the west to Kiribati in the east of this western and central Pacific area. PNA policy requires independent observers to travel on all purse seiners in the multi-billion dollar tuna fishery.

Numbaru, from Papua New Guinea, has been missing for over two weeks and is feared dead. This brings to six the number of observers who have been lost at sea in the last several years, including a least one under suspicious circumstances.

The safety of observers was a point of discussion at the recently concluded PNA annual ministers meeting in Majuro. The ministers approved a policy forbidding fisheries observers from providing data directly to fishing companies, which Kumoru said is important step to increase the safety of observers.

Industry “wants observer reports to say tuna was caught sustainably so they can get a good price at market,” Kumoru said. “If the observer doesn’t report this (what the fishing boat wants), they could be in danger.” The data on fish catches produced by fisheries observers is independent verification of what happens on board every purse seiner — and may include information about violations of fishing rules. Kumoru said data generated by fisheries observers belongs to the individual members of PNA who manage the fishery, not to fishing companies.

“The main principle is ‘rights-based management,’” said Kumoru. “In our waters, we make the rules. People cannot come in and apply their rules in our fishery.”

PNA operates a Marine Stewardship Council-certified programme that results in higher prices for fish caught without the use of fish aggregating devices or FADs, a system that is documented by on-board fisheries observers. Tuna that meets a rigorous “chain of custody” standard is being sold in Australia and Europe where environmentally conscious customers are paying a premium for sustainably caught fish.

PNA has seen the tonnage of sustainably caught tuna jump from 6,896 tons in 2015 to 59,586 tons last year as more fishing companies joined the program to catch fish in a sustainable way. PNA projects over 100,000 tons of Marine Stewardship Council-certified tuna will be landed and marketed this year, said PNA Commercial Manager Maurice Brownjohn.

The hundreds of Pacific island observers who work on purse seiners fishing in PNA waters are key to verifying that tuna catches comply with the “FAD-free” standard. Because of this, some fishing companies have been attempting to directly access the reports from on-board observers to gain independent confirmation that they are complying with this standard and circumvent PNA’s own Marine Stewardship Council-certified programme, said Kumoru. With the decision of the PNA ministers last month, this will not be allowed except with the express permission of the PNA country in whose zone the fishing boats is operating, Kumoru said. This should improve observer safety by insulating observers from industry, he said.

Other safety measures being rolled out for observers include use of digital tablets with direct satellite links to observer managers in PNA ports that allows observers to communicate directly with their offices without need of using fishing vessel communications systems. Observer safety was also a key issue at last December’s annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that adopted a measure increasing safety standards for observers….PACNEWS [/restrict]