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MSC announces new research funding to improve fishery observer safety

New funding to support research into fishery observer safety and welfare, has been announced by the Marine Stewardship Council today. The global not-for-profit organisation – which sets an environmental standard for sustainable fishing – said it hoped to accelerate progress in safeguarding observers who carry out a vital role in protecting our oceans.

The move follows the first death of an observer on a vessel fishing for MSC certified catch in the Western Central Pacific. The shocking and tragic death of Eritara Aati Kaierua on board the Win Far 636 in the Pacific in March 2020, is still under police investigation in Tarawa, Kiribati but there have been persistent reports of the dangers facing observers globally.  

Observers play a vital role ensuring the monitoring, compliance and surveillance of commercial fishing activities. Mandated by fishery management organisations, their work focuses on collecting data to enable effective regulation of marine activity. However, according to the Association of Professional Observers, the isolated and sometimes contentious nature of their jobs can lead to attempts at bribery, intimidation and violence. 

The MSC does not require fisheries to work with observers as a part of its certification requirements – but in practice many fisheries rely on observers to collect the essential evidence needed for sustainable fisheries management - especially in remote parts of the world. 

The MSC wholly condemns any violence or intimidation of observers. As part of its contribution to the collective efforts of the industry, human rights NGOs, governments and regulators to improve observer safety, the MSC is allocating £100,000 of funding for projects and initiatives aimed at improving observer safety at sea. 

The funds will be deployed through its Ocean Stewardship Fund in the next round which opens for applications in September 2020. This tranche of funding will also support initiatives focussed on the use of electronic monitoring and other technologies designed to support observers and deliver assurance of fishing operations.

The MSC action comes as there is a growing focus on this area, including campaigns on observer safety by Greenpeace and the Association of Professional Observers as well as the publication of a recent report by the organisation Human Rights at Sea. 

The Chief Executive of MSC, Rupert Howes, said: 

“The MSC’s mission is to end the global crisis in overfishing. This is an enormous and complex challenge, supported by the extraordinary hard work and efforts of many people – including observers.  

Governments, law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities must do more to ensure observer safety. But we recognise – as part of the wider sustainable seafood community - that the MSC also has a part to play.  We want to do so in a way which is practical, by helping those who are already working in this field, pilot and test promising initiatives.

By working collaboratively with others, we believe we can help protect the human rights of observers and support them to carry out their vital work safeguarding our oceans.”