PNA suspends observer coverage requirement for tuna fleet amid COVID-19 pandemic

The requirement to have 100 percent observer coverage on all purse-seiners fishing in Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) member waters has been temporarily suspended to avoid disrupting fishing operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a circular letter on 27 March, PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru notified all purse-seine vessel owners and fishing companies operating in PNA waters that the decision to allow fishing without observers is in response to the struggles tuna fishermen are facing as a result of COVID-19. In granting the request, Kumoru said the temporary suspension of the observer coverage requirements will be in place until 31 May, 2020.

“PNA members have been meeting to address the extraordinary, unforeseen threats arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to the welfare of observers, the operations of the purse-seine fishery, and the contribution of the regional tuna fishery to local and global food security, without undermining the effectiveness of efforts to conserve regional tuna resources and manage regional tuna fisheries,” Kumoru said.

The temporary suspension will apply to new trips after a vessel operator has met the requirements for repatriation of observers currently onboard a vessel.

Komuru said the vessel operators will still have to pay the cost of repatriation, and that foreign vessels that fail to repatriate an observer, as required, will not be allowed to operate in PNA waters

The PNA also said that when not carrying observers, vessels need to make sure that in the event vessel monitoring system (VMS) fails, all position data is reported manually, automatic identification system (AIS) reporting is maintained, and daily electronic logsheet reporting is performed. Vessels can continue trips in such a manner for 72 hours after failure.  

In a similar circular letter, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency supported the PNA’s suspension of observer coverage, and implemented the same conditions for observer coverage as the PNA’s.

The relaxed observer requirements comes amidst growing demand for canned tuna as a food staple during the pandemic – but because of observer requirements some fishing operations can’t continue, as most Pacific Island countries that provide observers have pulled those observers off boats due to safety concerns.

Earlier, Francisco Tiu Laurel, chairman of the World Tuna Purse Organization (WTPO), requested in a letter that the PNA allow vessels to continue fishing by either accepting a national observer of a vessel’s flag country, or without observers onboard, provided that the vessels have VMS and iFIMS operating.

According to the PNA, at least 800 fisheries observers are on the front lines for the Pacific Islands to help manage the multimillion-dollar tuna industry.

In the face of a pandemic, many Pacific island nations have made efforts to protect their observers. Micronesia and and the Marshall Islands will not deploy replacement observers due to the COVID-19 concerns, while Kiribati has imposed a 14-day isolation rule for vessels entering its port.

The Micronesian government is also requiring its observers to undergo 14-day isolation periods in any country that is not affected by the COVID-19 virus.

Tuan fleets are also requesting the PNA and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to allow transshipment, especially in the light of port closure in many PNA countries.

The WTPO said in a 25 March letter to WCPFC Chair Jung-re Riley Kim that its essential that fishing activity of the tuna fleet continues.

“We are obliged and not neglect our obligation to continue the supply of tuna as a responsible resource developer.  Our aim is to maintain a stable supply of essential food products to the people,” he said.

The organization also added that in time of a crisis, “canned tuna is one of the best emergency foods at a time like this pandemic situation.”

Photo courtesy of Thor Jorgen Udvang/Shutterstock 


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