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FFA calls for focus on people to combat illegal fishing

Honiara, Solomon Islands

A Fisheries Observer on-board a fishing vessel. Photo: FFA Media

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is calling for collective action to focus on people, not just technology, in efforts to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing at an international forum last week.

The Chatham House International Forum was hosted online in London from 18-22 May 2020 and attended by global policymakers, researchers, industry representatives and civil society groups from across the world.

FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen told attendees that FFA is increasingly recognising the human elements of  illegal, unregulated and unreported  fishing, with a focus on the safety of observers and crew, as well as identifying persons of interest who commit fisheries offences.


“The importance of observers cannot be overstated as these are our “eyes and ears” at sea who collect critical data for science and compliance, such as monitoring catches and ensuring fishermen are following the rules,” she said. 

“This is a vital role in protecting our oceans and preserving fish stocks.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen added that this can be a dangerous and lonely role as they can face hostilities from those that they are monitoring, sometimes leading to incidents or loss of life. 

The FFA is exploring ways in which the role of observers can be broadened to ensure they are not heavily dependent on fishing trips for income and that their valuable data analysis skills can be applied readily on land.

FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen. Photo: FFA Media

Fishing crews

Dr Tupou-Roosen said there is much work to be done to improve fishing crews working conditions on vessels and that there has been a lot of coverage highlighting this form of modern-day slavery.

FFA Members drove the adoption of the Resolution for Minimum Labour Standards for crew at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2018.  Notably, this is the first regional fisheries management organisation to make a stand for crew. “

“There has been much talk globally about improving observer and crew safety in the fishing industry but I suggest that we can all do better in walking that talk, and prioritising steps to ensure their safety and wellbeing.” 

Persons of interest

To combatting IUU fishing, there has been heavy focus on vessels compliance history. However, the DG said it is people who commit fisheries offences, not vessels.

“Persons of Interest profiling, including information about the history and performance of persons, would be extremely valuable as a tool for proactive decision-making, and increasing the information for decision makers.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen said a key task in this project is to go behind the corporate veil to reveal beneficial owners, to ensure that key persons involved in a vessel’s IUU activity are held accountable.

“We all recognise that IUU fishing is a global challenge." 

“The 'people factor' inherent in our industry must be addressed in a more concerted way.  The potential benefits in cooperation are manifestly positive.”