Ministry of Marine Resources secretary Pamela Maru. SBMA/22120116
A Covid-19-induced break in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (WCPFC) observer programme is evidence cameras are needed on ships, says an environmental NGO.
April 2020 the WCPFC – the body that oversees the Western and Central Pacific
fishery that includes Cook Islands – suspended its observer programme.
Commission has made the decision to get observers back on boats and resume its
programme on January 1, 2023, at the 19th Regular Session of the
WCPFC in Da Nang, Vietnam this week.
observer’s job is to collect objective catch data on board fishing vessels. Due
to travel restrictions and the risk of transmitting Covid-19 the WCPFC withdrew
the requirement for observers to be onboard ships. The suspension has meant an
absence of observers for close to three years in the region.
there was a requirement for observers to be on 100 per cent of purse seine
ships and 5 per cent of longliners.
Dave Gershman from the International
Fisheries Conservation Programme at The Ocean Foundation said the experience
showed that electronic monitoring was needed.
“Cameras are not going to be affected by Covid to the same
degree that observer systems are, so hopefully this kind of jump starts that
effort to really automate,” Gershman said.
not going to take over the observer’s job, there are only some things that
human observers can do but certainly it’s time to add in electronic monitoring
Ministry of Marine Resources secretary Pamela Maru, who is leading the Cook Islands
delegation in Da Nang, said electronic monitoring was a useful tool that could
complement independent fisheries monitoring.
“However, the need for human observers remains to be
able to collect data that cameras cannot, for example, biological samples,”
“Observer programmes provide employment opportunities
contributing to the livelihoods and socioeconomic benefits for Pacific
Maru also said electronic monitoring was costly to
implement and would likely take a few years before economies of scale are
developed in the region.
She said the Cook Islands was eager to have observers
redeployed and collecting data and also ensuring compliance with management
measures and regulation.
executive director Feleti Penitala Teo said getting observer coverage on longline vessels was
why the commission is moving very quickly on electronic monitoring. So that at
least there is an alternative option to provide the data gaps on longline.
countries have already trialed it but the Commission as a whole hasn’t quite
got the standard adopted.
Commission needs to do is to set those basic standards and criteria so that
when they are fully implemented, the member countries can choose or pick
whatever technologies that they want to collect the data, but it has to be
compatible with a standard that the commission has set.”
Gershman said on a longline boat a series
of cameras could be pointed towards the rail while fish are brought on deck.
He said that cameras could record the
species, the size, how many hooks are being used, and if by-catch was cut free.
Holmes from Pew Charitable Trusts said all of Australia’s tuna fleets are observed exclusively by
electronic monitoring and it had been successful.
Gershman said the cameras in Australia
had also improved the data that was being self-reported by vessels.
“If people know they’re being observed, they tend to
report a little bit more fastidiously, there’s a lot of benefits to have this
fisheries programme officer at World Wildlife Fund, Bubba Cook said cameras
could supplement and, in some cases, replace observers on longline vessels.
said observers did not like to serve on them because they were uncomfortable
and dangerous to work on.
also said the pre-pandemic requirement of five per cent observer coverage on
longliners was “woefully inadequate”.
per cent in itself is significantly insignificant to reach stock assessment
standards, much less any compliance objectives, so the only way we’re going to
get any visibility on what’s going on, on these longline vessels out at sea is
to apply electronic monitoring. Get cameras on these vessels so you can get a
better idea, a better understanding of what's actually happening at sea.
technology is robust, it is far more cost-effective than it ever has been and
the real resistance to it at this point is almost entirely political and
think anyone can relate to not having someone looking over your shoulder while
you're at work, but at the same time this is a public resource, it belongs to
all of us and we have a responsibility to take care of that resource.”
Caleb Fotheringham in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Fotheringham’s trip was made possible by The Ocean Foundation.