Koror (RADIO NEW ZEALAND)-The Parties to the Nauru Agreement has suspended the 100 percent observers’ coverage requirement for all purse seiners fishing in its waters.

The bloc has taken the step to allow tuna fleets to continue to operate in the Pacific in recognition of the threats faced by the industry from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PNA’s chief executive, Ludwig Kumoru, in a circular dated 27 March said the suspension will be effective immediately and would be enforced until 31 May.

“PNA Members have been meeting to address the extraordinary, unforeseen threats arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to the welfare of observers, the operations of the purse seine fishery and the contribution of the regional tuna fishery to local and global food security, without undermining the effectiveness of efforts to conserve regional tuna resources and manage regional tuna fisheries,” Mr. Kumoru said in the letter.

He said said the temporary suspension was in response to a request from all fishing industry operating in the PNA waters, including the US treaty vessels.

However the suspension is based on several conditions, including a requirement that the vessel operators shoulder the costs of repatriating observers currently onboard a vessel.

Vessels that fail to repatriate an observer will not be allowed to operate in PNA waters.

Fleets should also make sure that their Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is working and if VMS fails, the vessel may continue to operate for up to 72 hours without VMS reporting, provided that the vessel: reports hourly position data manually; maintains AIS reporting, and maintains daily data electronically logsheet reporting.

The tuna fleets argued it was essential that the supply of tuna continued especially in time of crisis when canned tuna is one of the in-demand emergency food staples.

The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) also supported the PNA’s move.

The chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, Eugene Pangelinan, impressed the importance of suspending the requirements in a letter last week to the chair of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Jung-re Riley Kim.

He said the FFA recognized that “these unprecedented times with the Covid-19 pandemic present unforeseen challenges of complying with requirements contained in our conservation and management measures”.

“It has progressively become very challenging for our observer programs to provide observers for trips which in turn creates significant difficulties for flag States to continue to comply with this requirement.

“However, we recognize the importance of minimizing disruption to the operation of the purse seine fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean,” Mr Pangelinan said.