WWF calls for reforms after tuna fleet fisheries observer lost at sea

The nonprofit WWF and the Association for Professional Observers are calling for measures to better protect fisheries observers after a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel reported its observer missing on 26 June.

The observer, James Junior Numbaru of Papua New Guinea, is the sixth to be lost at sea in recent years. Numbaru, who had six years of professional experience, was working on board the purse seiner Feng Xiang 818, which was in Nauru waters when the vessel reported him missing. Nauru police ruled out foul play after a brief investigation, according to Papua New Guinea’s Fisheries Forum Agency.

WWF Pacific tuna program manager Bubba Cook told Radio New Zealand that measures to regional fisheries observers are not being followed adequately.

“Despite the best efforts of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the Pacific Islands' Forum Fisheries Agency, there was still an incident with an observer that results in a fatality, and we simply can't have that. One observer missing is too many,” Cook said. “We're going to continue to advocate for improved safety and security for observers, and advocate for that transparency in the process. There needs to be record-keeping and reporting of every incident. And that record-keeping and reporting needs to be made available to the public so we can understand and learn from those instances and prevent it from happening to others.”

Association for Professional Observers President Liz Mitchell called for similar reforms in an interview with that Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“None of these observer deaths have had an official report that have reviewed the circumstances involved in their disappearances,” Mitchell said. “I would like all observer programs to report on an annual basis about observer harassment and interference, because right now, nobody’s tracking it.”

The National Fisheries Authority of Papua New Guinea’s managing director, John Kasu, said it would investigate both Numbaru’s death and the larger issue of observer safety while at sea.

“NFA is very concerned, as such it has requested for the vessel to return to PNG so that it and other authorities can investigate and enquire into this very unfortunate occurrence,” he told the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. “We will address the wider issues in due course as our immediate concern is attending to the immediate family of our missing colleague.” 


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