A collective of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) observer NGOs have come together to publicly share their detailed concerns around the implementation of a new conservation and management measure (CMM) for the safety, security and well-being of fisher crews, including the effective protection of their human and labour rights.

In an open letter issued to the WCPFC on 21 November 2022, the signatories called for key safeguards and enhancements to be made in the development, drafting and eventual implantation of the proposed regulation across the 26 WCPFC Member states.

The CMM development work has been ongoing since 2018, but it remains on the Commission's agenda and notably so for this year's 19th Regular Session of the Commission (WCPFC19) being held in Da Nang, Vietnam, 27 November – 3 December.

Meantime, the importance of the success of the CMM cannot be stressed highly enough across the global fishing sector, especially for those fishers and their families who become victims of, or are affected by, human and labour rights abuses at sea.

Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager commented: "A binding measure addressing crew welfare is overdue. The welfare of crew, and ultimately our ocean resources, depends on the will of the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations to implement provisions that address the exploitative abuse of vulnerable communities of fishers", commented Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager.

The NGO's joint recommendations include:

-    The explicit reference and consistent alignment to international human and labour rights conventions.
-    The addressing of the role, responsibility, and regulation of crew recruitment agencies or 'crew providers' at state level.
-    Additional clarification of CMM clauses relating to the investigation of accidents and fatalities.
-    Further specificity in relation to content that must be included within terms and conditions provided to crew in contracts of employment.
-    Clarification of roles and procedures for filing reports and grievances at port, coastal and flag   State level.
-    Clarification around the withholding of crew identity documents to mitigate risks of forced labour.

Jinsuh Cho, Campaigner at Advocates for Public Interest Law, said: "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."

International Pole and Line Foundation's Social Responsibility Director, Zacari Edwards, said: "The WCPFC has a unique opportunity to lead other RFMOs by example by ensuring this CMM provides additional protection for the most vulnerable in the sector and guarantees adequate safeguards are put in place that protects the human rights of fishers. We hope this joint letter helps emphasise the importance and urgency of this work whilst also highlighting the key areas of improvement we believe need to be addressed during discussions next week."

David Hammond, CEO Human Rights at Sea, said: "It is the responsibility of the accredited observer NGOs to ensure they work closely with and objectively advise on this state-led initiative ensuring that civil society representations are rightly considered for the betterment of fisher's safety, security and welfare at sea. These recommendations need to be taken seriously and their implementation not side-lined."

Signatories:

Advocates for Public Law (APIL)
Conservation International (CI)
Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)
Human Rights at Sea (HRAS)
International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Contactcharlotte.rumbol@humanrightsatsea.org | enquiries@humanrightsatsea.org 

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Photo credit: David Hammond 2019.