Pacific fisheries officials have extended a suspension of all observer coverage requirements on all purse-seiners fishing in the territorial waters of member-nations to July 31– when the suspension will be again reviewed.
The suspension was supposed to have ended on May 31.
In March, Pacific fisheries officials allowed purse-seine vessel owners and fishing companies operating in the Pacific to continue fishing without obligatory observers to avoid disruption as a result of the coronavirus.
“This decision takes effect immediately once the Commission has endorsed it. The Commission will review its decision by July 31,” Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) chair, Jung-re Riley Kim, said in the memo.
“In undertaking such a review, the Commission should take into consideration Article 30 of the Convention and the safety and livelihoods of observers.”
Fisheries observers monitor tuna catches on board purse seiners as well as in-port transshipment, which provides important data for fisheries managers.
But while the observer coverage was suspended, WCPFC said the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) requirements that applied to purse seine vessels during FAD closure periods would also apply to purse seine vessels which were not carrying observers.
“Thank you again for all your continued commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our observers while protecting the health of the tuna stocks of the western and central Pacific,” the memo said.
“I am sure that your efforts and cooperative spirit will continue as we face the challenges of this pandemic. Keep well and stay safe.”
While measures have been suspended, Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) director-general Manu Tupou-Roosen said FFA would continue to monitor and control fishing of the world’s largest tuna stocks.
“Stopping the use of observers onboard fishing vessels during the coronavirus crisis does not mean that illegal fishing will go unchecked,” she said in a statement.
Pacific countries, she said, utilise VMS surveillance operations and data analysis to ensure that fishing vessels are monitored, and that action can be taken if required.
“FFA member countries have responsibilities for the safety and health of observers, who are their citizens, often traversing international borders and regions, and to uphold national border control and shutdowns.
“This is the primary reason that the use of observers has been suspended, and in the meantime other monitoring, control, and surveillance tools will help ensure that fishing vessels are monitored, and that action can be taken if required,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.
With the WCPFC memo, purse seines vessel were also permitted to tranship at sea in an area under the jurisdiction of a port state if port closures and relevant access restrictions related to the prevention of Covid-19, restricted them from entering ports.