Management of observers and compliance in the WCPO

Official fisheries observers play a crucial role in fostering compliance with fishing rules in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). They are one part of a much bigger compliance effort that is part of the regional stewardship of tuna, other species, and marine environments so that they remain provide a source of food and cultural meaning for generations.

Observers’ work managed through linked regional and national programs

The Regional Observer Programme (ROP) was developed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). It builds on national, sub-regional and regional observer programs that were already in place.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Pacific Community’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) provide technical support to the national observer programs.

The WCPFC assesses the results of the ROP. It periodically collects and reviews data submitted as part of the program. Based on these, it amends the program and the various sets of rules that the ROP is based on. It also maintains guidelines on requirements for the ROP. changes. The commission is responsible for making sure confidential data is kept secure. To administer the Regional Observer Programme, the WCPFC:

  • maintains the program manual and observer workbook
  • coordinates activities with other programs
  • monitors trainers and courses to maintain standards
  • makes sure other programs meet ROP standards
  • makes sure the correct information is collected, stored, and sent out
  • authorises observers
  • reports annually on the program.

To be part of the WCPFC ROP, other programs need to be audited and authorised by the secretariat.

The commission publishes standards for setting up and running observer programmes. WCPFC Regional Observer Programme standards and guidelines (896.79 KB) were updated for 2019. The commission also publishes a list of providers and coordinators for observers (also updated for 2019).

In the Marshall Islands, a boarding party heads out to a ship. Observers and other fisheries officers play a crucial role in ensuring that fisheries are sustainable. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Compliance is managed by regional organisations

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCFPC) sets rules for managing fishing in exclusive economic zones of Pacific nations and on the high seas, and for combatting problems such as IUU fishing, too many fleets in operation, and bycatch. It authorises, monitors, and keeps records of compliance with the rules, which are described in conservation and management measures (CMMs). There are at least 16 CMMs that cover all aspects of fishing for tuna, protecting them as a resource that can be fished in the future, and protecting marine environments.

Records of meetings, proceedings, reports of the Technical and Compliance Committee are on the WCPFC website.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) provides monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) policy and services to its members. They are based on the MCS strategy that members developed. This is to build national capacity and regional solidarity so that the Pacific Island states can effectively manage fishing in the region, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The agency is a regional leader in combatting IUU fishing, and has funded two studies into reducing the incidence of it. The 2016 study showed that unreported fishing (e.g. via incorrect documentation on the catch) is the worst of the three in the WCPO. The 2021 follow-up study refines the information collected in the first, and recommends improvements in the MCS strategy to encourage fishers to comply with WCPO rules.

FFA’s support of compliance in the region includes:

The Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) of the Pacific Community (SPC) is the regional centre for research on tuna fisheries, fishery monitoring, assessments of tuna numbers and health, and data management. This information helps the Pacific Island states to carry out compliance operations.

OFP also aims to build regional and national capacity in the monitoring, control and surveillance of regional tuna fisheries, with the aim of eliminating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Two officials on bridge of tuna fishing vessel checking documentation before allowing the vessel to unload its catch. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Before a fishing vessel is unloaded, documentation is checked following a standardised structure. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

PNA members use FIMS to manage fisheries and compliance

Members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement use the web-based Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS) to manage fishing by domestic and foreign vessels in their waters. Before they used FIMS, vessels had to submit catch data by email or fax. PNA calls FIMS a one-stop shop for fisheries management. The system integrates numerous management operations such as vessel registration, catch documentation, electronic and human observation, the Vessel Day Scheme, audits and traceability, compliance, and reports. Reports can be submitted in near real time.

The system was pioneered by Papua New Guinea, and is being extended to other countries.

A PNG boarding party on the way out to sea. Photo credit: Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)
A PNG boarding party on the way out to sea. Photo: FFA.