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Japan,South Korea face condemnation for their proposal for a code of conduct

Mr James Movick. Photo: NUKU'ALOFA TIMES

By Pita Ligaiula in Manila, Philippines

MANILA – December 2: 11.15pm (PACNEWS): A proposal from Japan and South Korea for a ‘code of conduct’ for fisheries observers has been condemned by Pacific nations and environment organisations attending the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Manila.

Fisheries observers risk of intimidation, harassment and even death during long stints at sea carrying out their role as the eyes and ears of science and compliance authorities aboard commercial fishing vessels.

Forum Fisheries Agency Director James Movick said the code of conduct was not needed and questioned Japanese and South Korean motives saying he hoped they are not to divert attention from moves by Pacific countries to improve conditions and safety for observers.

In the past year, one observer had to be rescued after going missing from his vessel and another, from PNG, died after falling overboard.

Last year WCPFC Pacific countries were delighted when WCPFC adopted their proposal for comprehensive measures to protect observers.

Movick told journalists in Manila that improving observer safety and welfare continues to be a high priority for FFA members, including offering them insurance.

The FFA Director General said recent cases of missing observers underlined the need for further work to improve the safety of the observers.

“The problem with the Korean proposal is it is diverting attention from what is the key issue for us and that is the safety of the observers and the terms of conditions of their employment,” Movick said.

“With regard to the behaviour of the observer on board, we have arrangements in place where a captain can report the behaviour of any observer where he feels that is inappropriate.

“We have not seen any Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) utilise that channel that has been available to them all this years with the observers we run under the regional programme (ROP).

“To put this measure forward when they haven’t even used the channels that are available to them … I wonder what their real motive is but I hope it’s not to try to divert attention from this whole issues of observers safety on board appropriate treatment and conditions for observers,” Movick told Journalists in Manila.

Leading observer advocate and Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager for ‎WWF, Bubba Cook told a media conference the proposals by Korea seem to be a step backward.

Mr Bubba speaking to the media earlier today. Photo: NUKU'ALOFA TIMES

Mr Bubba Cook speaking to the media earlier today. Photo: NUKU’ALOFA TIMES

“It’s a direct response to the increase in observer safety and security measures we’ve had successfully implemented over the couple of years,” he said.

The South Korean Proposal will go before the WCPFC next week in the form of a conservation and management measure.

“If you look at the text of the measure itself it’s very clear its effort to kind of claw back some of the control that the industry had lost with respect to being able to influence observers on board the vessel,” Cook said.

He explained it is only if observers are protected that they will be able to provide useful information on how Tuna stocks are better managed in the region.

“There is a direct correlation between the quality and the quantity of the data that comes out of the fisheries and the safety and the security of the observers,” Cook said.

“If observers feel safe and confident in their positions then they are going to provide much more high quality data, they also gonna be able to provide more data in the sense that they won’t be obstructed in their jobs, they won’t be interfered with so I think it’s an important aspect that ..very often got  overlooked in previous years.

Cook said the six cases of missing observers in the Pacific over the past seven years emphasised the need for electronic monitoring on board the fishing vessels.

“(Electronic monitoring) is not about just catching people doing bad things, it’s also about being able to prove the elements of what really happens out at sea, so it can protect the industry and crew as much as they can punish them for wrong doing.

The region’s leading tuna scientist said the work of the observer programme is critical to the scientific community in providing credible information on the status of the fish stock.

“Without the observer programme we wouldn’t be able to collect any of these samples effectively, we would be relying on kind of voluntary submission of information from the likes of Japan and Chinese Taipei etc,” John Hampton, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Oceanic Fisheries Programme Manager, said.

Hampton said the observers programme needs not only to continue but to be enhanced.

“There is a lot of talk about substituting observers with electronic monitoring, using video monitoring, but those tools are good for some things but can’t sample fish so we will always need human observers to do that,” Hampton explained.

WWF’s Bubba Cook says that as well as e-monitoring, governments need to put more effort into transparency when observers go missing.

“We can’t truly understand how to prevent (deaths) from happening in the future if people aren’t very open, the government aren’t very open about what actually happened and share that information with other countries so that you can put that mechanism in place to prevent it from happening again and that is not been happening,” Cook stressed.

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