Understanding the Role of a Fisheries Observer

Press Release

3 August 2020

‘‘If an observer discovers things they weren’t intended to know about, they can face intimidation, threats, violence and, in the worst cases, murder.’’

London. UK. Human Rights at Sea today issues the latest in its series of Insight Briefing Notes covering key human rights issues within the maritime environment. Titled ‘The Role of a Fisheries Observer’ the insight is provided by Martin Purves, who prior to his present role as the Managing Director of the International Pole and Line Foundation, spent years at sea in fisheries management roles, including as a fisheries observer.

The document is part of a series of insights from the charity highlighting the realities of working at sea for fishers by providing first-hand testimony to aid public understanding of the roles and risks faced daily by those who ultimately put seafood on our plates.

The current work follows on from the recent HRAS 1 July Report: ‘Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations‘ and which also reviewed the apparent murder of Eritara Aati Kaierua on board the Taiwanese flagged Win Far 636 in the Pacific in March 2020.

The HRAS report, alongside the Greenpeace and the Association for Professional observers submission to the UN on the case of Eritara also saw a response by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in the 23 July announcement of new funding to support research into fishery observer safety and welfare of £100,000.

It also reflects earlier work undertaken by HRAS in 2015 into the issue of fisheries abuses and related deaths in the pacific region, and when the case study of the disappearance and death of Keith Davis was first highlighted.

Insight Briefing Note: The Role of a Fisheries Observer. 3 August 2020

Download the latest HRAS Insight Briefing Note covering the experiences and perspectives of a Fisheries Observer following on from the HRAS 1 July 2020 Report: ‘Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations’.

About the Author

Martin is a fisheries management and engagement specialist with over 20 years of field, government, consultancy, market and non-profit sector experience. He has been leading the work of the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) as Managing Director for the past four years. He started his career as a fisheries observer on fishing vessels in the Southwest Indian and Southern Oceans, later going on to be a resource manager of South Africa’s Patagonian toothfish fishery and representing his country at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR). Altogether he has spent more than three years of his life at sea on many different types of fishing and research vessels, ranging in size from 12m to over 60m in length. He has been deployed in the Indian, Atlantic and Southern Oceans and did several trips in the Gulf of Alaska while working on a project about observer sampling protocols for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). He has also trained, deployed and managed observers and developed training materials and trained fishery control officers. His wide-ranging experience in tuna fisheries was further expanded when he worked as a cruise leader during the Regional Tuna Tagging Project in the Indian Ocean. He established and led the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Southern Africa Programme for seven years before joining IPNLF.

Related Publications and Case Studies

Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations – 1 July 2020 Report

Download our latest independent report on the issues faced by Fisheries Observers, their safety, well-being and personal security when operating alone at sea dated 1 July 2020. (High Resolution Version)

Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations – Optimised

Download the optimised version of the 1 July HRAS report (8 MB)

Fisheries Abuses and Related Deaths in the Pacific Region – 4 December 2017

Download a review report into the issues of deaths of fisheries observers and crew abuses in the Pacific Region, including detailed case studies and background facts. This includes the death of Fisheries Observer Keith Davis.

On the 10 September 2015, Keith Davis was declared missing while carrying out his duties on-board an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) transshipment vessel.


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