Leaders of Pacific island nations are encouraging the region’s governments to prioritize the vaccination of fishing crews and seafarers in their national vaccination programs.
In a communique released by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders last week, 18 member countries and territories stated that vaccination will facilitate the transit and return of fishing crew and seafarers to their countries. The leaders have endorsed the Pacific fisheries ministers' recommended actions to deal with the impact of COVID-19.
Fisheries Forum Minister Chair and Fiji Minister for Fisheries Semi Koroilavesau said the recovery of the regional fishing industry post-pandemic is a top priority, calling it "a key contributor to local economies, food security, and livelihoods."
“We want to see all of our people back out there, earning their livelihoods and being able to take care of their families, but even more crucially we must ensure their health and safety is protected from COVID-19,” Koroilavesau said in a statement. “We have seen some really unfortunate situations in other oceans with fleets having to tie up as crew becomes infected with COVID. We want to avoid that outcome in the Pacific, so there is an urgent need for seafarers, fishing crew, and observers to be prioritized as frontline workers. There is a lot at stake. Vaccinations are an important first step in getting people back to work.”
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency Director-General Manu Tupou-Roosen echoed Koroilavesau's statement, urging leaders and ministers in the Pacific to ensure the safety of the seafarers and crews.
“Fisheries are an important contributor to the social and economic fabric of island economies so getting the seafarers and crews back into safe, productive work is crucial,” Tupou-Roosen said. “To do this we know we need everyone vaccinated. This is a message we heard very clearly at the Forum Fisheries Committee ministerial meeting recently.”
At that meeting, which took place at the beginning of August, the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted among the crew on fishing vessels was discussed, along with its impact on the national revenues and on-island health services.
The ministers lauded the Republic of the Marshall Islands for spearheading actions to vaccinate seafarers, fishing crew, and observers. They also concurred all governments, including flag-states operating fishing vessels in the region, should prioritize the vaccination of observers, fishing crew, and seafarers.
“Every nation will have its own challenges and unique approaches to undertaking an initiative to expedite vaccinations. FFA will be led by its members in determining the support that will be valuable in each nation and we stand ready to offer whatever assistance is deemed most useful,” Tupou-Roosen said.
At the same time as the call for vaccinations, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) last week extended the suspension of total fisheries observer coverage in the region until 15 December, 2021. The suspension was first put in place last year as a precaution against COVID-19.
Photo courtesy of the Pacific