4 December 2017

Investigative Report and Case Study
Today, Human Rights at Sea publishes its latest international investigative report and case study into the issue of disappearances and deaths of fisheries observers and related crew in the Pacific region.

The report highlights troubling trends and a lack of support at sea, as well as insufficient protections for fisheries observers undertaking their monitoring role onboard various flagged commercial fishing vessels.

Thanks go to Dr. Patricia Kailola of the NGO Pacific Dialogue Ltd, Fiji for all her assistance in bringing together evidence contained in this report, alongside other public and private sources.


Fisheries observers play a crucial role in protecting the culture, environment and economies of the 22 Pacific Island Country and Territories (hereafter the ‘Pacific Region’). However, their ability to perform their role is increasingly hampered by inadequate legal protection and mounting physical danger.

In the Pacific Region, maritime fishing can contribute up to 10% of the states’ GDP, and provide employment for up to 60% of the population. However, due to the profitability of this sector unsustainable and illegal practices are increasingly threatening this situation.

The complex international law picture has made it impossible to set legally enforceable minimum standards, putting Fishing Observers and crew members alike at the mercy of potentially unscrupulous corporations.

In addition, the Fishing Observer’s dual role as scientist and regulatory enforcer frequently makes their position on-board fishing vessels difficult, or at worst dangerous. Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that accusations of abuse against crew members are becoming concerningly regular.

Equally troublingly, in recent years unexplained disappearances of fishing observers have also increased in frequency. This report documents both of these issues, as well as explaining the economic, cultural and legal backdrop to the abuses and deaths that have occurred.