The APO's Four Focus Areas

  • Education and Outreach
  • Observer Health, Safety and Welfare
  • Observer Labor and Professionalism

Education and Outreach

One of APO’s primary objectives is to educate the public about the important role observers play in bringing fish to the table. Explore our website and learn about the fascinating, and sometimes unsavory, journey fish take to land on your plate.

Our education and outreach work at APO focuses on the dissemination of educational information related to the fishery observer profession and an increase in the utility of observer information and public access to it. Our aim is to reach out to a range of stakeholders; to increase the checks and balances of those who manage the oceans and to facilitate more public participation in the management of our public fisheries resources.

Public Access to Observer Data and Information

Most countries have Right to Know laws where citizens can request information from their federal government. The ocean is a public resource. Observers and Fisheries Managers are public servants. Fishers have the privilege of access to that resource, for which they pay a price (such as in quotas or allowable days to fish) and balance their expenses with what they make at the market. This comes with certain requirements to keep it sustainable and to know the unintended catch called bycatch. If it weren’t for observers this bycatch would likely not be recorded. Observers serve to provide fisheries managers, who are charged with balancing all the various and competing users of this resource, with the necessary data to make informed unbiased scientifically-based decisions to benefit all and the sustainability of the ocean. The observers risk their lives to collect this data and especially information about IUU fishing. The observer community has lost 1-2 fisheries observers per year since 2015. This is why we demand support for observers and that the public have access to know the impacts of fishing upon, not only the marine environment, but also on the lives of those working at sea.

The public should know how effective these fisheries observer programmes are being managed. APO frequently requests data and information from governments through government Right to Know laws to gain access to unpublished data. Citizens also have a right to their own information that the government collects on them. Publicaccess to observer program information and data allows citizens and groups to analyze and publicize information that would normally remain unpublished, such as observer harassment statistics and bycatch data. APO has submitted information requests for observer harassment statistics, court proceedings, information on policies, information about vessel conditions, and observer personnel files on behalf of observers. We view this as a public service and if you need help accessing data or information about observer programmes, please contact us.

Media

APO frequently receives requests from the Media for access to observers and observer information. If observer programs were more transparent with observer information, there would be less speculation about the facts. For instance, in Papua New Guinea, we have been unable to obtain information about observer deaths, which have been reported in the media with a range from 4 to 18.

APO also liaises with observers to provide the level of anonymity desired when sharing their story with the media. Unfortunately, observers still remain extremely vulnerable to retaliation, and observers are reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation from not only the fishing vessel personnel, but by the very agencies and employers who are charged to protect them.

APO Publications, Peer reviews, and News

  • Various reports by the Hunan Rights At Sea (HRAS) Fisheries Observer Initiative
  • APO and Greenpeace submit a request for UN intervention to ensure effective and thorough investigation and to designate observers as Human Rights Defenders due to their role in securing national food resources. Also see Andy Shen’s interview on this topic
  • An Evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs
  • Feburary 2020 – Testimony before a US Congressional Hearing on Sexual Harassment at NOAA
    • Anonymous
    • Elizabeth Mitchell
    • Patrick Carroll
    • Simione Cagilaba
  • Read more of APO’s publications, peer reviews and public comment

Please contact us for more information.

Observer Health, Safety and Welfare

Besides working alongside fishermen in what is considered one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet, observers face additional hazards. Observers are generally not welcome on a vessel for a variety of reasons, but because they provide an independent source of what is actually occurring at sea, they are critical and must be protected. This area of APO’s work focuses on the necessary steps needed to protect observers to allow them to continue to do the difficult work with which they are tasked.

  • Observer Deaths and Disappearances
  • Observer Harassment and Interference
  • International Observer Bill of Rights; Health and Safety; and Stakeholder Responsibilities

Observer Deaths and Disappearances

Observers risk their lives to provide the data necessary for fisheries management agencies to manage fisheries sustainably. Their protection is essential to their nations’ food security. There are many competing fisheries and interests, and observers struggle to rise above these to provide managers the best scientific and unbiased data so that they can make the difficult decisions to fairly manage marine resources. Yet, many observers internationally are placed knowingly in harm’s way without protections and accountability and are often not afforded even the most basic worker rights, such as a binding contract, insurance, or even wages in some instances (only subsistence and travel).

We focus on building awareness of the risks observers face with the hopes that agencies will examine the contributing factors and develop policies to reduce this risk. Due to the lack of transparency and public reporting of these occurrences, this is by no means a complete list. We continually strive to urge nations to:

  • publicly and regularly report on incidents of observer harassment, interference, injury and deaths;
  • study trends in specific fisheries, regions, and/or flag states of monitored vessels where they occur;
  • include the circumstances involved and the lessons learned;
  • involve multiple stakeholders in developing transparent and accountable policies to reduce their occurrence.

Please see APO’s Unsolved Observer Deaths and Disappearances.

Observer Harassment and Interference

We are not aware of any fisheries management agency in the world that systematically reports on observer harassment, interference, assault, bribery attempts, death or other vessel interference with fisheries observers who are the baseline data collectors for these agencies. This is important because it gauges the effectiveness of an observer program. Of the few that do publicly report on observer harassment, they are not analyzed by the agencies and following outcomes of cases is cumbersome. We continually advocate for agencies to analyze observer harassment trends to know what regions, against which nationalities, and from which flag registry the boat hails where observers are caused harm.

An observer is not able to do their job of collecting unbiased data if they are experiencing interference or otherwise prevented from doing their job. Harassment and interference of observers is illegal all over the world. In order to gauge the effectiveness of these laws, we need to systematically track cases and analyze their outcome.

Please stay tuned as we upload our observer harassment data.

International Observer Bill of Rights

The Observer Bill of Rights was first organized by observers attending the International Fisheries Observer Conference in 2000. Observer programs are rapidly developing as many nations face depleted fisheries and other ocean resources, requiring increased monitoring. In this context, we contend that observer rights, health safety and welfare must not be overlooked. A group of current and former observers have drafted these documents to include minimum health and safety standards and stakeholder responsibilities. Please see the following documents and tell us how your programme compares:

International Observer Bill of Rights
Code of Conduct for Responsible Observer Programmes – Health and Safety
Code of Conduct for Responsible Observer Programmes – Stakeholder Responsibilities

Observer Professionalism

This area of our work continues to unfold as we explore ways to foster professional development of observers. Observer professionalism is dependent upon access to basic worker rights – adequate training and field support (including adequate sampling and safety equipment); due process in conflict resolution – both at sea and in the office; and incentivizing positive behavior. There is no place for nepotism, discrimination, and other types of favoritism in observer treatment and deployment.

Our primary venue for communicating observer issues internationally continues to be through the International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference, which occurs every 2-3 years. Within the context of this conference, the Observer Professionalism Working Group was led by the late Keith Davis, who disappeared September 10, 2015 on the Chinese owned vessel, Victoria No. 168 (has since changed names to Kai Hang 168).

Please see IFOMC Resources page.

Observer Professionalism Working Group

The intention of the OPWG was to investigate, categorize and prioritize international working knowledge of employment practices in order to foster the professional development of fisheries observers, while strengthening the scientific and technical integrity of the fisheries observer profession and observer programs. First established in 2006, the OPWG continues to be a presence at the IFOMC.

Observer Professionalism Terminology
2008 OPWG Report – This is a report based on 100s of interviews with observers, observer providers and observer program staff.
Observer Professionalism Survey Template

Committees

  • Wages and Benefits
  • Support & Opportunities
  • Employment Standards
  • Social Equity

Public Access to Observer Data and Information

Most countries have Right to Know laws where citizens can request information from their federal government. The ocean is a public resource. Observers and Fisheries Managers are public servants. Fishers have the privilege of access to that resource, for which they pay a price (such as in quotas or allowable days to fish) and balance their expenses with what they make at the market. This comes with certain requirements to keep it sustainable and to know the unintended catch called bycatch. If it weren’t for observers this bycatch would likely not be recorded. Observers serve to provide fisheries managers, who are charged with balancing all the various and competing users of this resource, with the necessary data to make informed unbiased scientifically-based decisions to benefit all and the sustainability of the ocean. The observers risk their lives to collect this data and especially information about IUU fishing. The observer community has lost 1-2 fisheries observers per year since 2015. This is why we demand support for observers and that the public have access to know the impacts of fishing upon, not only the marine environment, but also on the lives of those working at sea.

The public should know how effective these fisheries observer programmes are being managed. APO frequently requests data and information from governments through government Right to Know laws to gain access to unpublished data. Citizens also have a right to their own information that the government collects on them. Publicaccess to observer program information and data allows citizens and groups to analyze and publicize information that would normally remain unpublished, such as observer harassment statistics and bycatch data. APO has submitted information requests for observer harassment statistics, court proceedings, information on policies, information about vessel conditions, and observer personnel files on behalf of observers. We view this as a public service and if you need help accessing data or information about observer programmes, please contact us.

Media

APO frequently receives requests from the Media for access to observers and observer information. If observer programs were more transparent with observer information, there would be less speculation about the facts. For instance, in Papua New Guinea, we have been unable to obtain information about observer deaths, which have been reported in the media with a range from 4 to 18.

APO also liaises with observers to provide the level of anonymity desired when sharing their story with the media. Unfortunately, observers still remain extremely vulnerable to retaliation, and observers are reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation from not only the fishing vessel personnel, but by the very agencies and employers who are charged to protect them.

APO Publications, Peer reviews, and News

  • Various reports by the Hunan Rights At Sea (HRAS) Fisheries Observer Initiative
  • APO and Greenpeace submit a request for UN intervention to ensure effective and thorough investigation and to designate observers as Human Rights Defenders due to their role in securing national food resources. Also see Andy Shen’s interview on this topic
  • An Evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs
  • Feburary 2020 – Testimony before a US Congressional Hearing on Sexual Harassment at NOAA
    • Anonymous
    • Elizabeth Mitchell
    • Patrick Carroll
    • Simione Cagilaba
  • Read more of APO’s publications, peer reviews and public comment

Please contact us for more information.