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The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has extended its suspension mandatory fisheries observer coverage in the region it oversees, citing the dangers of COVID-19.
In a circular memo dated 15 February, 2021, obtained by SeafoodSource, WCPFC Chair Jung-re Riley Kim said it was the consensus among WCPFC member-nations to extend the suspension. The WCPFC initiated the suspension in March 2020 and has since extended it several times. The commission will decide whether to allow another extension by 15 May, 2021, Kim said in the circular.
In the interim, WCPFC has allowed purse-seine fishing vessels to operate without observer coverage.
The temporary suspension will apply to new trips after a vessel operator has met the requirements for repatriation of observers currently onboard its vessels. The circular reminded purse-seiners that when not carrying observers, vessels need to make sure that in the event vessel monitoring system (VMS) fails, all position data is reported manually, automatic identification system (AIS) reporting is maintained, and daily electronic logsheet reporting is performed. Vessels can continue trips in such a manner for 72 hours after failure.
In December, following the conclusion of its annual tuna commission meeting, the 18-member Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) said it would push to reinstate fisheries observer coverage as soon as possible.
“Obviously, with over 800 observers in the Pacific, it is important that we try to put them back to work and provide for their families, and being also the eyes out on the water,” Fisheries Forum Committee (FFC) Chair Eugene Pangelinan said. “[But] the safety of observers is of paramount importance.”
Pangelinan said the decision to continue the suspension through May was not arrived at without some dissent.
“All these additional COVID responses that we’ve had have added additional burden on the secretariat and the members in terms of compliance and reporting. And so the bit of normalcy would be something that everybody would welcome,” Pangelinan said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case [at the moment]. And I think that, notwithstanding COVID-19 still happening throughout the region, some members were of the view that they wanted to still start the deployment and get people back on the vessels.”
Pangelinan said the FFA hopes that the commission will put in place robust guidelines and protocols to ensure the safety of observers if and when they are permitted back on board the region’s fishing vessels.
SOURCE: SEAFOOD SOURCE/PACNEWS
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