Commentary & Review
21 December 2020
London. UK. Human Rights at Sea has Observer status with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and attended the virtual WCPFC 17th Regular Session between 7-15th December 2020. The charitable NGO presented a detailed intervention on its peer-reviewed proposal for a new and dedicated Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) and follow on paper covering the ramifications for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), specifically focusing on the safety, security and well-being of fisheries observers.
Photo Credit: Alex Hofford / Authors: Bianca Haas & David Hammond
Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) play an important role in international fisheries and have the ability to enforce legally binding measures on their members. There are 13 RFMOs, managing different geographical areas and are divided into general RFMOs, managing non-highly migratory species and straddling species, and tuna RFMOs, which manage tuna and tuna-like species, among them the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
The WCPFC was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPF Convention), which entered into force on 19 June 2004. It has a broader ecosystem perspective such as the precautionary approach build in its convention compared to other RFMOs .
The tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is one of the most valuable tuna fisheries globally, yielding US$ 7.1. billion in 2018 , and the four main tuna stocks (skipjack, albacore, yellowfin, bigeye) are stated to be neither overfished nor subject to overfishing .
The WCPFC consists of 26 Members  and more than half of these states are Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This makes the WCPFC unique and the special requirements for developing states have been recognized in Article 30, of the Convention . Besides Article 30, the fact that the SIDS are well organized brings them in a position where they are able to influence debates and decisions (Morin, 2015).
The 14 SIDS member states  are members of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), which supports their participation in the WPCFC meetings with advice, expertise, and technical assistance. Another sub-group in the WCPFC is the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA), consisting of eight small island states , which regulate purse seining in the convention area .
What has been achieved so far?
Human rights issues (i.e. slavery, forced labour, child labour, crew welfare) is a topic, which gets attention slowly in these fora. While human rights issues comprise a broad range of topics, there are two areas which attracted increasing attention in RFMOs, namely the safety of observers and labour standards for crew.
In the WCPFC, the need to protect observers had already received considerable attention, while labour issues only recently emerged as an important topic to be addressed.
Observer protection was acknowledged 2017 at the 14thWCPFC meeting and the members adopted Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) 2017-03 for the protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Programme Observers . Nonetheless, more refinements are needed.
This CMM outlines the need for Member states to adapt their national laws to international standards in respect to the safety of observers but also describes measures to take in case something happens to an observer, such as ‘immediately ceasing all fishing activities’ or to ‘cooperate fully in any search and rescue operation’ .
The other important area of membership concern is labour standards and crew welfare. So far, the WCPFC is the only RFMO which had started to address this issue.
At the 15th Commission meeting in 2019, the Commission adopted a Resolution (i.e. a non-binding measure) on labour standards for crews on fishing vessels . This resolution encourages members to implement internationally recognized minimum standards for crew on fishing vessels or to strengthen their national laws concerning this issue.
At the 16th Commission meeting in 2019, one Member state provided information on the issue of unpaid salaries for crews and other members expressed their concerns and highlighted the importance of this topic . Even though no further actions had been taken at this meeting, the importance of labour standards and crew welfare was emphasised.
WCPFC 17 – December 2020
In December 2020, at the 17th WCPFC Commission meeting, the issues of crew welfare and observer safety received considerable attention, even though the normal agenda scope had been foreshortened due to the virtual setting.
Indonesia submitted a proposal for a CMM on labour standards for crews on fishing vessels  and Human Rights at Sea proposed a model CMM on human rights and labour rights protections for fisheries observers’ safety, security, and well-being .
Other NGOs highlighted the need to address this issue and the WWF-NZ in collaboration with On-Board Social Accountability (OSA-International)  submitted an information paper on labour conditions and social responsibilities in the Pacific fisheries .
The CMM proposal on labour standards by Indonesia aims to promote safe and decent employment for fishing crew. This proposal outlines the need for member states to extend their relevant national legislations so that they cover all crews working on fishing vessels flying their flag in the WCPF Convention Area. Moreover, this proposed CMM requires members to implement measures consistent with international minimum standards for crew welfare as well as measures if a crew member got injured, assaulted, missing or dies. As outlined by Indonesia, responsible fisheries management requires to address issues of labour rights abuse.
Human Rights at Sea
Human Rights at Sea proposed a model CMM, with the objective to support the efforts of WCPFC members to draft a CMM, dedicated to the safety, security, and well-being of fisheries observers. This proposal calls on members to ensure that their national legislation includes the work of fisheries observers as well as to establish standards for fisheries observer protection and labour conditions.
This proposal highlighted the need for decent working conditions such as access to clean fresh water and food or decent and regular salary payments. Moreover, this proposal also outlines safety and transparency requirements, for example as outlined in paragraph 7: ‘CCMs shall implement measures requiring all Members to disclose, 72 hours after receipt of a legitimate and formal written request from an investigating authority, Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data detailing specified vessel data where an act or allegation of human rights and/or labour rights abuse occurs.’
Due to the lack of time available and following the presentation to members, the proposed model CMM by Human Rights at Sea was not discussed further, though the proposed CMM on labour standards received attention from members.
The proposed CMM on labour standard followed the same objectives as the respective resolution . However, due to time constraints, it was proposed to establish an intersessional working group on this topic and to negotiate the CMM at next year’s meeting in 2021. Overall, this suggestion received support from most of the Members and Members expressed their support addressing crew welfare and labour standards.
One Member expressed concerns that these labour standards are outside of the mandate of the WCPFC. However, as a counter-argument, it was noted that Article 22.1. of the WCPFC Convention requires the Commission to ‘cooperate, as appropriate, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and with other specialised agencies and bodies of the United Nations on matters of mutual interest’ .
In the end, Members agreed to establish an inter-sessional working project which will explore this topic further.
Human rights issues, such as observer safety and crew welfare, are an imperative topic in international fisheries management and the WCPFC has taken a lead by establishing Resolution 2018-01 on labour standards for crew on fishing vessels and now with further developing a 2021 intersessional working project for labour rights of crew. WCPFC has therefore exerted its role and responsibility to address such matters under its purview though is currently silent on the present issue of further advancing the rights and safeguards for fisheries observers.
While the agenda for the 18th Commission meeting in 2021 is ambitious, it is equally important that fisheries observer safety, as well as crew welfare, receives the much needed attention it deserves.
As Human Rights at Sea asserted its presentation to Members, protection of workers must be an absolute priority and which includes fisheries observers noting that human rights apply at sea, as they do on land.
Download the fourth in the series of independent review and reporting into the safety, personal security and well-being of Fisheries Observers in the Pacific Region. This independent review and draft proposal expands on the first 1 July 2020 report: Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations and is complimentary to the 11 November 2020 follow-on report: Developing Recommendations and Policy in Support of Fisheries Observers’ Safety, Security and Well-being and the 11 November 2020 Pacific Survey Report: Understanding Working Conditions of WCPFC Fisheries Observers: A Baseline Survey.
Download the third in the series of independent review and reporting into the safety, personal security and well-being of Fisheries Observers in the Pacific Region. This joint Survey Report with The University of Nottingham (UK) Rights Lab expands on the first 1 July 2020 report: Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations. It is also complimentary to the 11 November 2020 follow-on report: Developing Recommendations and Policy in Support of Fisheries Observers’ Safety, Security and Well-being.
Download the second in the series of independent review and reporting into the safety, personal security and well-being of Fisheries Observers in the Pacific Region. The 11 November 2020 Report expands on the 1 July 2020 Report: Fisheries Observer Deaths at Sea, Human Rights and the Role and Responsibilities of Fisheries Organisations.
 WCPFC. (2004). Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Retrieved from https://www.wcpfc.int/doc/convention-conservation-and-management-highly-migratory-fish-stocks-western-and-central-pacific
 PEW. (2020). Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2020/10/nettingbillions2020.pdf
 WCPFC members: Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu.
 WCPFC (2004), Article 30.
 FFA members: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu
 PNA members: Federal States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu
 McCluney, J. K., Anderson, C. M., & Anderson, J. L. (2019). The fishery performance indicators for global tuna fisheries. Nature Communication, 10, 1641. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-09466-6
 WCPFC. (2017). Conservation and Management Measure for the protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Programme Observers.Retrieved from https://www.wcpfc.int/doc/cmm-2017-03/conservation-and-management-measure-protection-wcpfc-regional-observer-programme
 Ibid. p.2
 WCPFC (2018). Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels. Retrieved from https://www.wcpfc.int/doc/resolution-2018-01/resolution-labour-standards-crew-fishing-vessels.
 Haas, B. (2020). Tuna management in action: assessing the contribution of the WCPFC to the SDGs. Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs. doi: 10.1080/18366503.2020.1726261
 WCPFC (2020). Draft Proposal for Model WCPFC Conservation and Management Measure on Human Rights and Labour Rights Protections for Fisheries Observers’ Safety, Security and Well-Being by Human Rights at Seas. Retrieved from https://www.wcpfc.int/node/49135.
 WCPFC (2020) Proposed CMM on Labour Standards for cew on fishing vessels by Indonesia
 WCPFC.(2004). Article 22.1