Globally Outlawing Observer Harassment and Interference

A project of the Observer Health, Safety, and Welfare Focus Area

Project Overview

The issues of Harassment and/or Interference against fisheries observers performing their duties - which impose negative consequences on data quality and observer health and safety - have been reviewed by the APO lately in several articles and letters. 

Amid the various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and among many worldwide observer programs, it can be very difficult to obtain reliable information on the levels of observer harassment and interference. The lack of data on infractions and the difficulty to retrieve access to existing data are fundamental obstructions that discourage the possibility of constructing a proper systematic analysis of the levels of harassment and interference against fisheries observers. RFMO's and some national observer programs don't have the means to gather data regarding observer harassment and interference incidents or the capacity for managing this data well. In addition, they don't commonly share existing information of this nature, the amount per type of incident involving the harassment and interference of observers, therefore, on a global scale, incident rates remain a mystery. 

It is important to understand that sampling and data outputs can be and are threatened by harassment, interference, or by other professional obstructions affecting observers. In some cases an observer may finish a deployment with an absolute loss of sampling data generated, with significantly biased data due to an introduced harassment or interference situation while at sea or even with serious physical and mental injuries. However, in some situations, the data being gathered is not enough to understand the nature of incidents, and, in some investigated cases, several incidents affecting an observer may be considered as one- the simple sharing of information is not good enough. It is important also to trace the steps taken in investigations and to appropriately weigh the results found for each case. 

In order to construct a thorough understanding of the nature of the observer harassment/interference problem and statistically evaluate it on a global or even on a national scale, programs must publish observer harassment and interference statistics based on the same criteria. It is very important to work towards standardizing a data set (like as related to the number of observer sea days) of observer harassment and interference cases. With wide sharing of standardized observer harassment and interference data, measures could be taken to impose an obligation for observer programs to work on a gradual decrease of cases, with the intent of reaching a given maximum acceptable rate of observer harassment/interference incidents (incidents/observer sea days). These measures could initially be based on a reduction from present levels and could then be gradually lowered through encourage methodologies, and changes and implementation of laws which foster the reduction of observer harassment and interference incidents.

This project will be working to implement solutions that may help us to understand and the gravity of this global problem and work towards minimizing incidents:

  • Dissemination of information and building awareness (regarding impacts and recommendations) amongst stakeholders, fundamentally fishers, on the problem of observer harassment/interference;

  • Development of an international model, which works to: specify and define the types of situations considered to be observer harassment and interference;

  • Update the current knowledge base on harassment/interference information gathering and sharing, and explore avenues that tackle observer harassment and interference problems;

  • A model designed as such could help to: standardize the overall observer harassment and interference statistic data series for evaluating these situations, and harmonize laws so that they may be easily adopted by programs and nations ("states");

  • A joint declaration in the context of the forthcoming IFOMC, together with the Observer Professionalism Working Group (OPWG), issuing a plan to reduce worldwide the cases of observer harassment and interference

Project Updates - Observer Harassment Trends and Statistics

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. 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 their outcome.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) first contacted us following their 2005 survey of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees' job satisfaction and confidence in the agency utilizing the best scientific information. They began to request annually through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statistics on observer harassment, interference and assault. We know that NOAA did not provide complete data for at least 2013 because an observer in the Southeast reported harassment to us and also to NOAA that year and it was not included in this data. Whether or not this was an oversight, it points to the need to develop a systematic mechanism (with public oversight) to track the trends and outcomes in observer harassment, interference, assault, bribery attempts and other methods of interference.

Contact Information

Please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or feedback, and if you have any interest in participating in the developments of this project: 
Ebol Rojas: 
Liz Mitchell: 

Project Resources