Pacifical reaction to Press Release by FIA on June 2nd

On June 2nd Mr. Sylvester Pokajam who is the President of the Fishery Industry Association in Papua New Guinea ( PNG), sent out a press release in which the following statement was included:

Quote: “We don’t support the manner in which the PNA MSC / Pacifical has gone ahead to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to not place observer on purse seiners for their MSC trips. In our opinion, the MSC office should suspend the PNA MSC trip for the observer waiver till 31 July 2020” Unquote

We find it particularly disappointing that Mr. Pokajam is now trying to score points over this pandemic threat with apparent disregard for the efforts of his country and the region to ensure the safety of observers, boat crews and the populous. In these times of pandemic.

Care for the health and well-being of our observers and fishing crews, the people that make MSC certified fishing within the PNA possible,have always been at the forefront of our Pacifical decision making. We are dealing within our MSC scheme with over 200 purse seiners which do not just land their fish in PNG ( as with the FIA ) but in transshipment ports and designated zones all throughout the PNA, in small island ports,  affecting close to 6,000 crew and observers at sea and the many small island economies.

PNA and Pacifical need to take into account the risks of a pandemic spreading in remote communities with limited resources and healthcare facilities. Therefore the comparison between the FIA-MSC fishery and the PNA-MSC fishery is not based on equal grounds.

It should be understood that the FIA is talking in name of the industry members, not the PNG government and not the country’s National Fisheries Authority.

To prevent confusion we would like to provide a comprehensive breakdown of the developments and measures taken :

The 8 PNA member countries including the PNG government, concerned over the threat of the virus to their nations and nationals resolved to suspend the requirement for 100% mandatory observer on -board coverage following concerns of each nation over the safety and welfare of their observers and nationals at sea. This in addition to lock downs of their ports and a ban on inter island flights. This is not a 100% end on observer coverage, because many of them are still at sea, but no longer mandatory 100% as with no flights and closures it is not practical.

The discussions began as early as February with many islands already starting to put COVID restrictions in ports including restricting travel from listed origins and temperature checks. For example the PNA’s largest transshipment port Majuro, on the Republic of the Marshalls Islands (RMI) sent out a notice about corona measures on the 2nd of February – 4 months ago.

Less than 2 weeks later the PNG NFA (National Fisheries Authority) circular 3/2020 of 13th Feb restricted operations to protect the port and people, also those on FIA associated vessels. On March 8th the RMI implemented a total travel ban halting the ability to place and repatriate observers from vessels arriving in this essential port. Each island nation moving to protect its nationals.  On the 23rd of March the PNG NFA circular 9/2020, also suspended observer and inspections on all vessels, also including those of FIA members.

The result was to extend all observer stays on board, while studying options to maintaining 100% coverage as is required in light of safety of the islands nations and people and how to deal with the lack of air services.

Formal meetings by PNA officials explored options and legal implications from the 24th – 27th March, resulting in a resolution by all 8 +1 nations ( PNA+Tokelau) to suspend mandatory 100% observer coverage, but to not restrict any national programme wishing and to maintain any  observers at sea, and also requirement to repatriate any observers to their home ports when possible. It was decided that this temporary decision would be reviewed on 31st May 2020.

After talks between the PNA and the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the FFA adopted the same resolutions and on April 3rd wrote to the RFMO, the WCPFC (Western Central Pacific Fishing Commision) informing them of the decision taken. On the 8th of April the WCPFC adopted identical resolutions and suspended the observer requirements  in the WCPFC  until 31st May 2020.

At the end of last month the WCPFC , FFA and PNA extended their corona measures to the 31st of July 2020, as  found in the decision marked WCPFC 2020/46.

The worries over the well- being of observers and the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 on them and the entire fishery and the small vulnerable island economies made the PNA last month contract an independent study with monthly follow ups to monitor and manage the impacts.

The MSC Chain of Custody (CoC) standards do not require observers to monitor the fishery. However the PNA MSC COC is unique in that it uses observers from PNA national programs to validate any claims for MSC eligibility, this among many other multi layered controls which are now enhanced to compensate.

Faced with the COVID 19 restrictions by the nations, fearing that the virus would enter their virus free island nations  and genuine concerns over observers, the PNA worked together with their CAB (Conformity Assessment Body) and   varied the MSC COC scheme, to ensure absolute confidence in the MSC claims in the event that  no observer coverage could be accommodated in these extreme conditions. 

Within 48 hours after the PNA had suspended the observer requirement,  the PNA MSC variation on its MSC CoC was approved on 29th March 2020 detailing how it would maintain the integrity of its strict CoC which is above and beyond the MSC standard…

Having shared these facts with you, we hope you can determine what Mr. Pokajam’s  statement is worth. It should be understood that he may reflect the commercial interests of a few, BUT he is not talking for the PNG government nor the country’s National Fisheries Authority nor their commitments to regional initiatives through PNA, FFA or WCPFC.

Covid-19 has had a great impact on all areas of the world in a range of different sectors, together with MSC we have made sure the PNA nations and our observers are safe while still meeting the compliance challenges  due to the pandemic and meanwhile  continuing to ensure the supply of high quality sustainable wild tuna through Pacifical

The PNA island nations are some of the last places in the world which remain un infected by the virus, and their governments are determined to protect their people from the risks of exposure. If you have any more questions after reading this do not hesitate to get in touch with our Pacifical Team through email