Observer Harassment

Amid the various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and among many worldwide observer programs, it can be exceedingly 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 do not have the means to gather data regarding observer harassment and interference incidents or the capacity for managing this data well. In addition, they do not 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.

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 important to work towards standardizing a data set (for example, 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 works 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”).