Pacific fisheries observer suspensions extended, WCPFC says health of observers a priority

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has extended the suspension of total fisheries observer coverage in the region until February 2021, amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a circular memo dated 22 October, WCPFC Chair Jung-re Riley Kim stated that the commission and its members agreed to suspend the requirements for observer coverage on purse-seine vessels until 15 February. The suspension of observer coverage was supposed to expire on 31 October, but the commission decided to extend it due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The suspension of 100 percent of fisheries observer coverage was initiated in March as the pandemic escalated, preventing observers from getting on the vessels.

Kim said that the proposal by the chair to extend the suspension was circulated on 13 October, and was decided on after a seven-day review period with comments from the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members, Korea, and the European Union.

WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo, in the body’s secretariat quarterly on 23 October, said the safety of the fisheries observers remains a priority.

“The priority for the health of observers, fisheries personnel, and crew combined with uncertainty over the timeframe that COVID-19 related decisions will be needed, means CCMs are considering ways to improve their ability to monitor fishing activity while avoiding the transmission of this virus,” Teo said.

The commission at WCPFC will continue to engage in conversations about the observer coverage, as there is a dedicated agenda on this matter for the annual meeting, Teo said. He also noted that COVID-19 has “significantly affected routine monitoring at sea.” While observers have been repatriated, he said, some observer providers are still working to get the last observers off vessels and home from overseas.

“The ongoing border restrictions of most countries means repatriation remains a slow process,” Teo said. He added that as the world enters the last quarter of 2020, COVID-19 is still upending most activities.

“There has been no reprieve from the global pandemic as the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing in many parts of the world," he said.

With the extension of the suspension of fisheries observers coverage, WCPFC said the temporary suspension will apply to new trips after a vessel operator has met any requirement for repatriation of observers currently on board a vessel.

During the period of suspension, the vessel monitoring scheme (VMS) that applies to purse-seine vessels during fish-aggregating device (FAD) closure periods will also apply to purse-seine vessels that are not carrying observers. 

Photo courtesy of Human Rights At Sea 


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