RFMO Observer Safety Measures

 RFMOs are regional fisheries bodies made up of coastal states or organizations and fishing nations. On this page you can find links to the relevant observer program resources on the RFMO’s websites, as well as the latest safety guidelines, if any. 

Please see this preliminary evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO) observer programs, lead by Christopher Ewell.   Because RFMOs make decisions generally by consensus, any state member can crush a conservation measure, including any measure that protects fisheries observers.  Agreements take years to finalize and once implemented, the regional bodies have little authority over violations by their state members, even if the offending members have formally agreed to the binding measure.  Then there are ‘resolutions’ which are non-binding.  Thus the abuse of observers and/or illegal fishing rarely results in any consequence from the RFMO and is simply tabled at their annual meetings until the following year. 

Meanwhile the employers (such as MRAG-UK, MRAG-Americas, MRAG-Asia Pacific  just replace the observer with a new observer and the vessel returns to fishing without consequence.  Harassment is rarely reported publicly and those that are reported are difficult to find and nearly impossible to follow to completion or resulting consequence.   Thus, when observers in these programs find themselves in trouble, they are in a jurisdictional quagmire with no protections, often alone and far off at sea.  Observers frequently find themselves in international waters on vessels that are registered under “Flags of Convenience” – where fishing companies seek to register their vessel to a country that is known to be lacking enforcement of fisheries regulations.  Keith Davis’ case was a prime example.  When he was reported missing, Keith was working on a Panama-registered (flagged) transshipment vessel (“carrier vessel”), operated and owned by Taiwan, with a multi-national crew, that transshipped fish from catches from a Vanuatu-flagged, Taiwanese-owned and operated longline vessel, 500 miles off the coast of Peru.  These fisheries are truly lawless and observers are caught in the middle.


Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)

Regional Observer Programme (ROP).  WCPFC was the first to pass its observer safety measures, which had an implementation deadline of January 1, 2017 but sadly,  many of the observer programmes in the region continue to deny their observers safety equipment.  Since the requirement of the measure, three observers in the region (that we know of) have died without safety equipment.

Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP)

The IATTC/AIDCP website does not have a dedicated page to observer safety or their observer programs.  IATTC observers are primarily transshipment observers, while AIDCP observers monitor the fishing vessels themselves.

The IATTC/AIDCP resolutions (non-binding) and measures can be found here.  Resolutions include Observer Safety at Sea (IATTC C-18-07); Observer Safety Equipment (AIDCP A-18-02); Observer Safety At Sea Action Plan (AIDCP A-18-03); and, Onboard Observer Program and Captain Incentives (AIDCP A-99-01).

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), and Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT)

The above RFMOs have published an ROP Observer Manual but have no safety requirements for observers.  Here is information on the CCSBT observer program (and here).  IOTC regional observer scheme can be found here, as well information about their transshipment programme.