Can electronic monitoring improve observer safety and security?

While collectively, Pacific fishing nations do not appear to be in a rush to send fisheries observers back to sea unless their environment is safe, some national programs have continued to deploy observers on fishing vessels that confine their operations to domestic waters.

The Forum Fisheries Association, Pacific Community, Parties to the Nauru Agreement and other stakeholders have worked collectively on COVID-19 safety protocols for observers, crew and anyone interacting with fishing vessels.

They’ve also worked with fishing companies and governments to repatriate observers, a process that was complicated due to border closures.

Last year, FFA Director, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said the death of Eritara Aati Kaierua “tells us that we’re not doing enough, that there is much more to do,” to ensure the safety of observers.  

Dr Tupou-Roosen said the sector is using the ‘COVID pause’ to “see how we can sustain their [observers] incomes and that they’re not just looking from one vessel trip to another in order to get an income, but we utilise their skills on land as well.”

The region’s fisheries officials are also looking at electronic monitoring for longline fisheries, an area where there have historically been low levels of data, and where confined conditions make it difficult to always have observers onboard.

Recently the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) said it was moving towards being the first Pacific Island nation to use onboard electronic monitoring of the activities of all longline vessels fishing in its EEZ.  Fiji, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands have also trialled systems that employ cameras and sensors interfacing with GPS for long-line monitoring. In FSM, 15 observers have been trained to analyse videos collected from Japanese longliners.

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