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By Pita Ligaiula in Manila, Philippines
Japan has come out in defence of its proposals at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting for a code of conduct for fisheries observers – the independent eyes and ears of tuna science and compliance initiatives on board commercial fishing boats.
The proposal from Japan and South Korea has been condemned by Pacific nations and environment organisations attending the WCPFC) in Manila.
Fisheries observers risk of intimidation, harassment and even death during long stints at sea.
At last year’s Commission meeting the Pacific won a raft of new measures to enhance observer safety despite opposition from Japan.
In Manila Tuesday the Head of Delegation for Japan, Shingo Ota told the media when the issue of a code of conduct was raised at the WCPFC last year, there was no objection from members.
“We raised this question — on the code of conduct because, you know, our fishing industry is experiencing many incidents. But last year, many people say that the observers’ safety is much more priority than the observer code of conduct.
“I said on the floor: establishment of a code of conduct is not our final objective.
“Our objective is to reduce unfortunate incidents caused by the observers and most of the observer incident are actually happening on land, not on boat fishing vessels, and particularly, before embarkation, many observers are drunkard and destroy public facilities or steal bicycles or something, and some of them are actually arrested by the police,” Ota said.
“Whenever these types of incidents happen, the fishing vessel owner goes to the police and apologise and compensate for the damage, and bring observer back to that fishing vessel. So, we just want to see reduction of these incidents,” Ota stressed.
He argued the number of incidents has increased in the last five years.
“That is why we got a code of conduct. But again, code of conduct itself is not important.
The important thing is just we want to see more better behaviour of observers before embarking on fishing vessels and after disembarking fishing vessels.
“I know that FFA has a code of conduct for observer. That is why we have been asking FFA to provide their code of conduct so that our proposal can take into account their code of conduct,” Ota said.
“However, they didn’t provide their observer code of conduct to WCPFC. So, it was too late, you know, at that time. Then suddenly Korea submitted a proposal and we didn’t know that then therefore we know that there is no option other than to become a co-sponsor of Korean proposal for us,” he explained.
He said the fisheries observers come from other countries including Pacific countries but admitted he doesn’t know there is a FFA complaints mechanism in place.
“I don’t know about complaints mechanism but there is a system to transmit to them the complaint to the observer provider. But they know things are not getting better despite our repeated requests to rectify the situation,” said Ota.
He mentioned the need for more training for observers on the issue to avoid the problems from recurring.
But Ota failed to suggest the code of conduct for crew members be extended to boat captains.
“We heard some members raising this point, but if you have the incidents and collect evidence, and if Japanese fishing master is doing this, we will of course do investigate the case. But we haven’t received any complaints.
“On the floor, some members, were talking about this point. But I didn’t hear directly from Pacific Island countries about behaviour of Japanese fishing masters. There could be, I don’t deny, but on the other hand, I received a lot of complaints from industry about misbehavior of observers, particularly on land.
Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director James Movick said the code of conduct was not needed and questioned Japanese and South Korean motives saying he hoped they are not to divert attention from moves by Pacific countries to improve conditions and safety for observers.
In the past year, one observer had to be rescued after going missing from his vessel and another, from PNG, died after falling overboard.
Movick told journalists in Manila that improving observer safety and welfare continues to be a high priority for FFA members, including offering them insurance.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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