Crew and observer safety and welfare critical

by Iliesa Tora | 3 December 2022 | News

Da Nang, VIETNAM – December 2, 2022 – Crew and observers’ safety and welfare
must be ensured by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for its members
and operators within their area, non government organization reps here in Da Nang
have stated.

They have brought their concerns to the 19th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries
Commission (WCPFC 19) meeting here.
One thing is clear and the NGOs are united on – there must be a conservation and
management measure (CMM) for the safety, security and well-being of vessel crews.
Korean NGOs.

A report circulated by seven Korean NGos on the sidelines of the meeting here in Da
Nang has called for the urgent need for labor standards in the WCPFC.

The six NGos are Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), Citizens Institute for
Environmental Studies (CIES), Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Human Dignity
Group (HDG), Human Rights Now (HRN), International Transport Workers Federation
(ITF) and the Serve the People Association (SPA).

“The WCPFC members, cooperating non-members and participating territories (CCMs)
have a tuy to protect human rights,” the report stated.

“This commitment applies at sea as it does on land, and high seas fishing is particularly
high risk to labor explitation.

“Its transnational nature poses unique challenges for government oversight and
heightens the vulnerability of migrant crew to exploitation.”

The report stated that abusive working conditions at sea have attracted increasing
attention in recent years from the international community as one of the major patterns
of forced labor and human trafficking.

The International Labour Organisation and Walk Free Foundation report of 2017 on
‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labour and Forced Marriage’  stated that
40.3 million people are in modern slavery worldwide. Roughly 24.9 million are under
conditions of forced labor, and 11% of whom are in agriculture and fisheries.

“Fisheries can not exist without crew and the labor of crew members is at the heart of a
fishing operation, the Korean NGOs report stated.
“And the protection of crew can and should be an integral part of fisheries regulations.
Government delegations should therefore make full efforts to ensure that appropriate,
effective and binding labor standards are established to promote responsible fisheries in
the WCPFC.”
The Korean group’s spokesman Ms Jinsuh Cho said they were happy the WCPFC is
starting to work on the issue but added this is urgent.

“The WCPFC’s mandate to responsible fisheries extends to those who work on the
fishing vessels. There are no fisheries without the fishing crew, and the WCPFC can
and should create effective protection measures for those who are the most vulnerable
at sea,” she said.

Urgent action
The World Wildlife Fund wants urgency in the adoption of the proposed regulation.
WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, Bubba Cook, said the
legislation of crew welfare is long overdue.

And the effective protection of their human and labour rights of the crew members must
be of high priority for the Commission.

“The crew welfare is currently before the committee and the intersessional working
group has been considering the framework of the crew welfare measure moving
forward. There was a resolution that was adopted back in 2019 that resolution is
effectively a promise but its not binding,” he said.

“So, what we want is the binding measures that says this are the specific things that you
must do to protect the welfare of crew serving on board these vessels because if we
cannot protect the crew on board this vessel how can we honestly look at our self in the
mirror and expect to protect the conservation of the resource.

“Addressing the crew welfare on board the vessel is an important feature and also
getting information and understanding of what’s happening at sea – a level of
transparency that allows us to better address the conservation aspect as well. We can’t
really expect a crew member to treat the resource with respect to release sharks
unharmed if they are being abused on board the vessel, so we need to address those
issue as well,” Mr Cook told the Pacific media team here in Da Nang.

He said the WCPFC is obligated to take the issue up and ensure that all out at sea are
safe and secured with their future and conditions.

“Initially when it is first proposed that was an issue that came up and actually, we
submitted a legal policy analysis that indicated that not only does the WCPFC have the
authority to take the issue up they have the obligation to take it up. It extends from the
fact we already address human rights in the form of the Observer and security issue,”
he revealed.

“Its nonsensical to address the human rights of one person serving on the vessels but
not the others. Those objections I think we’re very subdued following that analysis and
some additional discussion they said look we have an obligation …we don’t have fishery
if we don’t have people on board those vessels, so it’s imperative to address the issue
of crew on board those vessels.”

Work on the CMM has been ongoing since 2018, with slow progress, and after four
years the issue is back for discussions this week.

Pacific Island Countries have in the past recorded human rights abuses and violations,
including both crew and observers. Some have died as a result – with no compensation
from the WCPFC, Forum Fisheries, Party to Nauru Agreement or the individual
companies the workers worked for.

WCPFC response
Current WCPFC chair, Korean Jungre Riley Kim said the issue is currently being
discussed here and was hopeful that some progress will be made before the meeting

“A small working group is being held and they are discussing labour standard issues
and there have been working group intersessionally in a virtual manne,” she told the
media at a press conference here yesterday.

“And this is the first opportunity for them to discuss the matter in person so I hope some
progress can be made and WCPFC is leading on this front and labour’s issues can no
longer be separate from fisheries issues because they are about the people and the

“So I hope some progress can be made and set an example for other fisheries
organisations as well.”

Mr Feleti Teo, the outgoing WCPFC executive director, added that the working group
reviewing the issue wants to ensure that the current resolution is more legally binding.
“At the moment we have resolution on crew standards and the resolution in terms of the
language of the commission is not legally binding it sort of aspirational statement by the

commission. What the Working group that is meeting right now is trying to do is convert
that into a stronger legally binding decision of the Commission which will be in terms of
a conservation and management measure on labour standard,” he stated.

The 19th WCPFC meeting continues today with more deliberations on issues on the