Conflict Resolution in Fisheries Compliance Work by Francisco Blaha

I have quoted in the past articles from the INFOFISH Magazine (you should subscribe if you can), written by colleagues/friends about their work. This time is a bit unusual as will be quoting one that was written by my friend Vibeke Brethouwer, whom interestingly, I been married with for the last 18 years! The unusual element about this, is that she does not really work in fisheries, she is a graphic designer and mediator.

conflict is palpable

conflict is palpable

Just to give context, over the years learned that when you work in compliance, is not just about fisheries rules… is mostly about conflict in between people holding two very different position over one topic. Furthermore it get intensified by the fact that in the commercial fisheries sector in the pacific, that conflict takes on the substantial cultural differences en between industry (mostly people from DWFNs) and regulators from Pacific Islands. Just look at the body language in the pictures that illustrate this blog entry, if you have doubt about this reality.

I discussed this with my colleague, friend and almost brother Ratu Jope Tamani from FFA many times and we agreed that knowing how to deal with conflict is fundamental to the job, and that all the training we do need to involve this fundamental aspect of the job as part of the curriculum, so we decided to that.

So Jope said: “Vibeke would be great to do this training; she has the qualifications and experience in conflict resolution, has lived with you in various countries in the world with along my fisheries work, which gives her multicultural / fisheries context, and surely is good at managing conflict since she been married to a melt pot of nationalities and hard headed ex-fisherman like you for long time while bringing up your lovely kids!!” So yea… that kind of settled it. 

I have been to one of her 1 day sessions as part of a 3 week trainings and it was quite something! Way more participative and mobilising that any other session we had, it touches deep nerves about human interactions that are the basis of the jobs we do.

And I find it incredible that none of the fisheries inspectors or observers trainings i been involved for most of my life, do include a session of conflict management as vital part of the curriculum. Hopefully this initiative helps changing that.

When INFOFISH magazine knew about her training and work with FFA asked her to writhe the article I quote below, she wrote it in conversational tone, which is also something I like:


I have worked with the FFA in the past three years to provide a one-day workshop on ‘Managing Conflict and Challenging Conversations’ during their yearly Regional Competent Authority Fish Inspection training in Fiji.

Conflict resolution and fish inspection may seem like unrelated subjects but it turns out that talking about conflict and how to address the thorny issues that come up in the work of fisheries inspectors is a great way to help people become more confident and compassionate leaders in their workplaces, and this of course then benefits everyone involved.

At the start of the workshops, I often begin by defining conflict, a word that can be a little scary. It is important to note that conflict is not necessarily violence, but that violence is simply one of the ways in which humans (and animals) deal with conflict, and mostly not in a very productive way.

Conflict is simply any situation in which your concerns and desires differ from those of another person, or stem from    a disagreement between two or more people. We also immediately realise that conflict is possible within our own selves, as we have opposing desires or concerns in life on a daily basis. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing (nor a good thing), it simply is a fact of life. This broad definition of conflict allows us to consider how it is that we try to avoid certain conflicts, but other types of conflict, we relish and we enjoy.

Sports games are a type of conflict, where two players or teams may have a conflicting desire, i.e. to win, but we all know that only one of them can do so. The conflict in this case is highly organised, there is a set of very strict rules  that both sides adhere to and it becomes something that we enjoy watching and doing. It seems that only when we don’t agree on the rules, we run into trouble, and in the heat of the moment it can be hard for the players on either side to come up with a fair solution since their desire to win may  be overriding their desire for fair game. Within themselves, these desires compete, and we are grateful for the referee who makes hard decisions. Away from the pitch, most players will agree that referees are necessary to make the game possible, but they may not always behave that way on the pitch under the high pressure.

I find that workshops such as the ones organised by the FFA are a great time at which to reflect how emotions, culture and conflicting values and ‘rules’ may influence our own ability to deal with conflict. It is a place where peers who work in different countries but who deal with similar  situations,  can discuss what are the moments in their working life in which conflict and misunderstanding occur. For example (unsurprisingly), fisheries inspectors have to step into situations where the other party may not be very welcoming as a lot is at stake for fishermen and fish processing factories when there are issues with compliance. Language barriers are an obvious problem, but this is often only the first thing to overcome. 

Different cultural frameworks 

The world of fisheries is by its very nature, one in which different cultures meet, trade and interact as we go on the water and cross our oceans to feed people and make a living. As fishing becomes more industrial and international, legal and trade regulations become increasingly complex. Fisheries involve people from different countries and from different cultural backgrounds who live and work together on a daily basis. 

Language is of course a big part of culture and one that is not only expressed through the spoken or written word. We discover how our body language can be very expressive as well as can be a huge source of confusion and when misunderstood, can be a source of conflict. 

Feeling respected or not respected may be the simple reason why information does or doesn’t get shared and this can be a great problem for authorities and workplaces. It is very helpful to discuss what is ‘respectful’ behaviour in different parts of the world. We know for example that looking someone in the eye while they speak may be a mark of respect and attention in one place, but very disrespectful and seen as aggressive in the other. In the workshop we discuss a lot of ways in which cultures differ, like our understanding of time, of individual choice or collective decision-making, what constitutes authority, and gender roles. If we can make the time to discuss what it is like ‘back home’, we often increase our understanding of why the other acts the way they do. It is hard to resolve a difference in values, but it is possible to find mutual respect for the fact that we all hold values and an understanding that these will inform our actions. 

It is said that culture is like the water the fish swim in. As a fish, you don’t notice it, until you are not in the water anymore. Then you realise it is hard to breathe and you don’t know how to do the simplest things. It helps to realise that outside of our own culture, we are all a little lost and we need to work that much harder to uncover each other’s true intentions. Working harder in this case means asking some questions, being genuinely curious and listening carefully. This takes courage and time, but all those things are great leadership qualities. 

gender and culture are major part of managing conflict

gender and culture are major part of managing conflict

Personal approaches to conflict 

A major part of the workshop is working out what our own approaches to conflict are, and how our personal and emotional reflexes may translate to the professional setting. Through discussing different reactions to conflict, from avoiding and accommodating, to negotiating, competing and fighting, we realise that in fact we employ a variety of strategies to deal with thorny issues. This is based on the Thomas-Killman model of conflict modes. Everyone has an instinctive reaction to situations in which we feel threatened or attacked. We may want to run and hide or we may want to fight and dominate. Either way it seems that someone or something loses. How we react may be informed by how we grew up, and what expectations were placed on us according to our gender or status.

Relating back to the previous example of the sports game, we are also conditioned to think in terms of winning or losing. Having a competitive person working for  you may  seem like an advantage for workplaces in a competitive business world. If that competition however turns on members of your own organisation, it can cause destructive conflict, as trust  is eroded through aggressive behaviour, information does not get shared and workplaces lose money, time and people when workplace conflict becomes destructive.

A fascinating aspect of the avoiding and accommodating styles of reaction to conflict is that these too have a destructive impact. It may be very destructive to the avoider for example, as they compromise their ability to do their own job, to raise important issues and it can even affect their health and self respect.

The ultimate and least destructive way to deal with conflict is collaboration, and this often requires a very important switch in perspective. From the aforementioned sports game, where it is clear that only one side can win, in a workplace the best outcome is usually the one where  everyone gets what they needs.

In the world of fisheries inspection it is clear that regulating authorities and the fishing industry often have competing missions, but underlying that is a shared need for clear rules and a healthy ocean with a sustainable resource. Both parties want to see a fishing stock not just for  today but also for the future as a way to make a living for the people of their country and survival of their companies.

Decisions in business may be informed by economics and financial reality, but there is an underlying need to provide for people and to do so in relative harmony and stability. This is often a prime need that businesses share with regulating authorities. Collaboration is therefore the most sustainable way forward to deal with conflict both within a workplace, and on the coalface of enforcement and regulation. Sharing information and listening to the needs of the other party will smooth the way to collaboration.

Listening is a key skill

One of the most important skills we therefore practice in the workshop is listening. I teach that the best way to deal with conflict, or to avoid conflict becoming destructive is to learn to postpone judgment, even for a little while and to listen for any information that may be new to you, before you make decisions.

In the workshop we go back to basics and practice how to listen ‘actively’ to others. We first practice it in a situation where there is no conflict; we simply share information and ask the listeners to repeat back the information that they have just heard, before they say their own piece. So often we are busy deciding what we are going to say, that we forget  to listen carefully enough to be able to repeat back what the other person had just said.

This may seem like a trivial exercise but I find that even for the most accomplished people it can be extremely challenging to reflect back what they had heard someone else say. Interestingly enough, as a mediator, listening and reflecting back what someone said is one of our main tools to help resolve a conflict. Hearing someone acknowledge in detail what you have just tried to express and perhaps have been saying for many years can truly help you move on from entrenched positions in very longstanding conflict situations.

So even the simple exercise of repeating back the information that someone has just given you can help you steer away from conflict before it even happens. The key is to make it an opportunity for the person you are listening to, to clarify if you had indeed understood what they were trying to say and to invite them to add anything else. With asking that open question of whether there is anything else they need to add, you are likely to find out information you had not thought of before and it may help you make a more considered decision.

Try to prevent conflict before it happens

In the heat of the moment, sadly it is only human to make snap judgments based on assumptions. When you are under direct physical threat this may be your best survival strategy of course, and we are biologically wired to react to threats. Most of the time in our workplaces, we are not under a direct physical threat, but our brains may momentarily tell us otherwise, so we do the opposite of what is needed and we stop listening and become caught up in emotion.

Participants in the FFA workshop do discuss situations in which they feel physically unsafe and they come up together with strategies to diffuse tension or avoid these from happening. It could be something as simple as providing back-up to each other and retreating out of unsafe situations. There is a big role to play for the organisations in question to ensure that fisheries inspectors and observers can work safely, in terms of providing the legal and practical means for enforcing the ability to do so. New technology often provides an opportunity to come up with safer ways of gathering data; this may be considered as a way of surveillance that is both smart and safe for the fisheries inspectors. As a mediator from New Zealand it is not my expertise, but I believe that discussions between participants can inform structural and institutional changes.

Even if I give ‘avoiding’ conflict behaviour a bad rap it is important to remember that there are ways in which workplace managers and leadership can prevent conflict from escalating to the point where it is costly to their organisations and their employees. To be able to do this, again, listening is an important skill. When a conflict situation comes up time and time again, it may be useful to review what can be done structurally in an organisation to have better communication and protect employees from recurring stress.

If managers and leadership are willing to listen to the reality and grouses of their workers they can design their systems  in a way that conflict is minimised. One example that was mentioned in the workshop was that of a competent worker who was being tasked  with a lot of jobs, but who was at   the same time, getting instructions from several managers and not getting support from co-workers. The problem was that there was no proper system to share the workload. A systematic approach to avoiding conflict therefore may be ensuring regular meetings to check off tasks as well as provide an opportunity to then decide whether some of the work can be shared. This avoids resentment, precludes conflict and increases collaboration.

Like in any industry, the fisheries industry is one where conflict happens and it is a daily task for those working in it to manage it well.

I applaud FFA for putting conflict resolution skills on the menu for workshop participants. It is a huge privilege to work with diverse groups as these and seeing the personal courage, wealth and depth of leadership skills within this industry in the Pacific.

As decision-makers and leaders in the industry I am sure you are all used to the practice of making quick decisions, which is an admirable skill. If you find you run into conflict and miss out on the input from others however, I highly recommend doing a little active listening practice. Even five minutes a day to repeat back what you had heard your spouse or child say, may improve your management skills and decision-making. Good luck


Vibeke Brethouwer ( lives in Auckland, New Zealand and is a mediator, conflict resolution trainer and designer. She has worked with the Peace Foundation and with the Resolution Institute in New Zealand in mediation training. She enjoys working through tricky problems with empathy and a step-by-step approach that provides solutions that everyone party to the problem can live with. She does the same with her design clients. She has a strong interest in the Pacific, the world of fish and its people

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! (1894) by Francisco Blaha

I always maintained that I'm a very fortunate man, and for many reasons. Just one of them is that I have the opportunity to know brilliant and capable people, and somehow manage to make a good enough impression, as for them to remember who I am, and then be very helpful and communicative with me.

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894 .  Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894. Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

Shelton Harley is one example of those very smart people I refer above. I wrote about him before in these posts. After leaving SPC he came back to NZ, and he is the Manager Fisheries Science at Fisheries NZ. In any case, he was in Madrid last week and during his walking through the "Museo del Prado" (one of Europe's most important art museums) a painting caught his attention and “out of the blue”, he contacted me with a link to it.

The info he sent me indicates two things to me: 1) How thoughtful he is and 2) how ingrained (i think) is the issue of crew welfare, on all of those that been at sea and/or work around issues of fisheries sustainability, independently if it is stock assessments, MCS, policy, oceanography, etc. even if utile recently not much has been done.

The painting he was referring me to, is called "And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!" and it was painted in 1894, and you can read about it here.

The description is timeless and could be happening today in many parts of the world:

“… shows a scene inside the hold of a fishing boat, where a young sailor, barely a boy, is lying on the ground after an accident at sea. On his naked torso hangs a medallion, a protective amulet to guard fishermen against misfortune. The young man is treated for his injuries by two old fishing companions, both with serious concentration on their faces. One holds him by the shoulders, whilst the other, wearing a traditional Catalan cap, applies a compress to the wound, which he has just wet in the pot of water in the foreground. The three sailors are surrounded by fishing tackle, whilst in the background is a pile of fish, caught during this unfortunate day’s work…”

For me personally is very poignant, albeit the fact that fisheries was and continues to be perhaps the most dangerous occupation in the world, I was once the youngest in the crew... and after one broken knee, a broken jaw with 3 molars gone forever, at least 12 "hooks in flesh and face" and "head against bulkheads” scars, two shipwrecks, some collisions, fires, massive gear malfuntions and other shit that happened in the last 30 years… I still around, and this continually remains me what I said on my first sentence above, I'm a very fortunate man.

While H&S in fisheries has advanced a lot in developing countries, I believe we haven't moved forwards it in the same extent than forestry and mining, for example, have done... and that is a significant inside debt we have. Wich grows exponentially bigger when you get to know the realities of less developed countries and flags of convenience.

Yes, fishing is no doubt is a dangerous job, and perhaps there is a natural limit to how “safe can it be”, but that inherent danger was the main reason why 30 years ago I was getting paid more per day than anyone else my age and my limited qualifications at the time... but those days are gone, the job may be a bit less dangerous today in some countries, but the payments are abysmally lower in comparison.

As I mention I was doubtful about "branching out" into labour issues, from my usual "pure fisheries" work... yet the support I had has been amazing. From people contacting me with ideas and information up to small but very mindful gestures like Shelton's one in this case...

And yes, unfortunately, 125 years after this painting was made, not much has changed and many people "still say fish is expensive!"

Some good stuff that has slowly been happening on the topic of decent labour in fishing vessels by Francisco Blaha

James Sloan is a barrister at law in the English jurisdiction, but based in Fiji and running a law firm for quite a few years for now. But as most of the people I appreciate and admire, their job does not just define who they are… James’ life includes running, the environment with a particular focus on the ocean, governance systems and how to promote good decision making, providing a good working environment, travel, amateur photography, good science fiction and family. Hence we have quite a few overlapping interests!

A great smile and hope for the best

A great smile and hope for the best

He publishes an Ocean Law Bulletin I have been following for years (and you should too). He invites sometimes specialist in the region to co-write them and is always top reading.

So I was really honoured when he asked me to work on a piece on some of the updates and good stuff that has slowly been happening in the region and worldwide on the topic of decent labour in fishing vessels.

I’ll transcribe the article here below, but you also can read it in his page.

Unfortunately, offshore fishing is an industry that has become synonymous with poor working conditions and human rights abuses when compared with other ocean industries like shipping. This is because some of the activity of fishing itself takes place outside of the legal jurisdiction of any nation State, on the “high seas” and within EEZs where no State has sovereignty to make and enforce laws.

In effect it is an industry where bad players can get away with being unregulated and through the regime of flag State registration effectively claim "immunity" from legal oversight in relation to working conditions. This is not to say all offshore fishing vessel operators are bad players but those fishing vessel operators who do want to comply with good employment standards do not compete on a "level playing field".

The awareness raised by civil society organisations (CSOs) and stakeholders has led to various recent developments, including the development of a specific International Labour Organisation Convention (“ILO”) (Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)) (“C-188”) being developed and entering into force in November 2017.

Six months ago, in Cape Town, South Africa, the provisions of C-188 were brought to bear by South African authorities against a foreign owned fishing vessel (a link to ILO’s report on this story can be found here).

The problem exists because some flag States who do have the legal jurisdiction to enforce labour standards on vessels on the high seas that are registered to that flag State lack the ability or willingness to regulate offshore fishing vessels that "fly their flag". Effective and universal flag State regulation is an issue of oceans governance and this is same issue that underpins Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (“IUU”) fishing on the high seas and within coastal States’ EEZs.

Solving this ocean governance issue in the fishing industry would likely lead to direct benefits for Pacific Island States both because employment opportunities would improve for Pacific Islanders and because those fishing vessels that are well regulated are more likely to comply with conservation and management measures put in place to protect the Pacific’s essential fish stocks.

In this extended legal bulletin we summarise the international law problem of unregulated labour standards in the offshore fishing industry and consider recent efforts that provide steps in the right direction to bring an end to a shameful problem that should no longer be tolerated in the 21st century. 

After all, as things stand, on the high seas (areas beyond national jurisdiction) the transportation of slaves by sea is an international crime and is regulated by the law of the sea framework. Contrast this with forced/slave labour and human rights abuses on people “employed” on fishing vessels in the same areas of ocean, and who fall outside any effective regulatory law of the sea framework and as a consequence find themselves outside the reach and protection of the law. To change this may require an overdue shift in general international consensus to amend the current law of the sea and governance framework. 

Six months ago, the competent authority in South Africa relied on its Port State jurisdiction to take enforcement action against the fishing vessel that had docked in one of its ports (South Africa is currently one of 10 signatories to C-188). Unfortunately the “long list of problems” that South African authorities found on board the fishing vessel “including lack of documentation, poor accommodation, insufficient food for fishers, and poor safety and health conditions on board” and overall “very poor” health and safety conditions is not unusual in the industry. In terms of employment standards there was not a crew list on the vessel and only two of the crew members were found to have employment agreements. The failure to keep a crew list may seem innocuous but in the context of reported issues that have happened at sea it is, in fact, a chilling reminder of how vulnerable undocumented and unrecorded crew members are.

However, lack of regulation in the offshore fishing industry is not a simple problem with a simple solution. As with many issues of oceans governance and fishing in particular the solution is not as simple as relying on new legal instruments or policy documents. Rather, solutions can only be found through a joint effort involving the industry, regulators and civil society collaborating within the existing legal and governance framework and calling for fundamental change. Above all nation States that register/flag vessels must step up or be compelled to step up to their legal responsibilities to bring the fishing industry employment standards in line with what is expected in the 21st century. 

The issue of forced labour and work in fisheries has been the subject of the latest UN General Assembly Resolution (UNGA) on Fisheries - agreed in December 2017. Paragraph 172 of the UNGA Resolution provides:

(the UN General Assembly) Calls upon flag States to effectively implement their duty under the Convention with respect to labour conditions, taking into account applicable international instruments and national laws, and in this regard encourages States that have not yet done so to consider becoming parties to the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and to implement the Guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections under the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and the Guidelines on flag State inspection of working and living conditions on board fishing vessels”… This paragraph is actually copied from last year's UNGA fisheries resolution paragraph 169 – i.e. this is the existing view of the UN General Assembly.

By calling on flag States “to effectively implement their duty…” the UNGA has recognised and gone to the heart of the knotty international law problem that affects many areas of Oceans Governance.

In summary the problem is:

  • The legal jurisdictions of nation States (sovereignty) only extends to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles from their coastlines (assuming that the State is a coastal State).

  • Once any vessel/ship (including a fishing vessel) is beyond that distance, generally speaking, only the State that the vessel is registered to (the flag State) has any regulatory jurisdiction over the vessel.

  • As a consequence, for any worker aboard that vessel/ship he or she must rely on the flag State to protect his or her legal rights including employment rights.

  • This principle of jurisdiction recognises the ancient principle of freedom of the high seas, is part of customary International Law and is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“LOSC”).

In effect, if the fishing vessel owners and operators are not interested in providing adequate working and health and safety standards aboard the vessel (a bad player), and the flag State is not capable or interested in regulating those standards, then the worker aboard that vessel is outside effective regulation and is vulnerable to exploitation without legal rights or effective recourse.

This problem is exacerbated by the ability for States with no interest in regulatory standards to offer open registries where the international law requirement contained in LOSC to register the vessel is fulfilled in exchange for a registration fee. This currently accepted practice of registries of convenience produces vessels/ships that fly “flags of convenience”. There is also nothing to prevent a vessel from registering in new jurisdictions to fly a different flag, although under LOSC a vessel/ship cannot be registered in two jurisdictions at once as it is then deemed “stateless” (without nationality) and has no protection as it is not under the “jurisdiction” of any flag State and loses its effective flag State "immunity".

These open registries are well known and perhaps operate only to collect a registration fee. Generally speaking, they seem to have no interest in regulation, and are often in jurisdictions with inadequate employment protection (this fact may have attracted the registration in that jurisdiction in the first place as unscrupulous vessel owners will know that their operations will face little or no legal scrutiny in all areas beyond national jurisdiction).

This situation has led to many calls for a change to the governance framework based on LOSC that relies on flag State regulation to be effective. However, since its coming into force in 1982 there has been no amendment to LOSC, and in any event, the emphasis and approach of international law and LOSC is to seek solutions via universal cooperation and agreement/consensus among all nation States.

This unresolved and difficult international law governance problem presented by flag State jurisdiction remains the major barrier to change and effective enforcement despite the large number of international agreements and voluntary standards that vary in their scope and adoption in this area. Remember, South Africa were able to take action because the offending fishing vessel had docked in one of its ports and therefore had submitted to South African sovereignty/jurisdiction.

For example, prior to C-188, the ILO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established a number of binding legal instruments to improve fishers’ safety and working conditions. This included:

  • the IMO’s Torremolinos Protocol and the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) which entered into force in March 2013; and

  • non-binding recommendations and codes, some of which were developed jointly between the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IMO.

As mentioned at the start of this piece the ILO has in recent years turned its focus to the fishing industry through the adoption of the C-188 (read more about it: Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188).

In brief, C-188 seeks to ensure decent standards for all fishers regarding conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, as well as medical care and social security. The Convention came into force in November last year when the 10th country ratified it. C-188 is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199) as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.

On the safety side of work at sea, there is the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA), adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which also outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and provide a level playing field for the fishing industry. The CTA updates, amends, and replaces the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993, relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977.

Neither the Torremolinos convention nor the protocol will enter into force themselves, but the CTA reflects provisions contains in them. Once in force, the CTA will set minimum requirements on the design, construction, equipment, and inspection of fishing vessels 24 meters or longer that operate on the high seas. Its entry into force would empower port States to carry out safety inspections that could be aligned with fisheries and labour agencies, to ensure transparency of fishing and crew activities. The treaty consists of minimum safety measures for fishing vessels that mirror the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—an internationally binding treaty on safety for merchant vessels that entered into force in 1980. It also calls for the harmonised fisheries, labour, and safety inspections.

The CTA will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 states with an aggregate 3,600 fishing vessels of at least 24 meters in length operating on the high seas have expressed their consent to be bound by it (China alone gets to this number)

To date, 10 countries have ratified the CTA so there is still some way to go until the CTA enters into force, and at present, until it is in force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels. The slow pace of ratification of these conventions inhibits effective control of safety and labour standards in the offshore fisheries sector.

It has been suggested that the “stagnancy” relating to finding a solution is due to a lack of a “pressure driver” around industry, governments and civil society, and as consequence it undermines important opportunities to prevent and detect instances of labour abuses. To some extent this must be right, however, in terms of international law, it is hard to make effective change when a universal consensus is the generally preferred or only method of change.

It should also be noted that as well intended as they are, neither C-188 or the CTA alone are capable of making this change to the underlying international governance issue related to flag States, where those flag States are not interested to, or do not, “implement their duty”.


However, there have been four interesting, recent and separate developments that may lead to some positive outcomes in the area of decent labour in fishing vessels. These changes are well-intended, specific and targeted, and I hope will lead the way towards, and set the standard for a fundamental change in the international consensus and approach in this area.

Development 1: FAO’s Development of a Position Paper on Decent Labour for COFI:FT in 2019

The COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (COFI:FT) of the Food and agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has a specific mandate to:

  • promote social sustainability in fisheries value chains,

  • promote the recognition and protection of human and labour rights in national and international value chains, and to

  • collaborate with international partner organisations – such as International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others.

FAO Member countries through the COFI:FT session in 2017 recognised the complexity of addressing social issues relative to human and labour rights in fisheries value chains, recommending that FAO collaborate with interested partner organisations and stakeholders to develop a guidance document to assist fish value chain actors.This aims to improve the implementation of existing instruments and measures that encompass responsible business conduct, human rights and international labour standards.

At its thirty-third session in July 2018, the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) decided that the guidance on social sustainability should be developed in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fish worker associations, through a process known as the Vigo Dialogue. The aim is to improve the sector and move towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Vigo Dialogue will also focus on measures for social responsibility in the fisheries and aquaculture sector as strategic approaches to combat abuses of human and labour rights in fish value chains. The overall objective is to facilitate an open discussion to enable feedback and input from stakeholders in order to address the challenges and complexity of this topic.

In particular, the Dialogue will focus on the mandate from COFI on social responsibility and the process and roadmap for the guidance development and stakeholder involvement. The final outcome of the guidance development process will be presented to COFI-FT in 2019 and COFI in 2020.

This process is underway under the combined efforts of one of my friend and seafood labour specialist Katrina Nakamura, and myself.

Development 2: The Tuna from Responsible Fisheries Standard - UNE 195006:2016

The 2016 “Tuna from Responsible Fisheries” (Spanish acronym: APR) standard (UNE 195006:2016)by the Spanish Association for Standardisation (AENOR) is the first certification associated to an national normalization body, aimed at tuna fishing that incorporates crew labour issues.

It was prepared by the Technical Committee AEN/CTN 195 “Capture fisheries” whose Secretariat is held by AENOR. The standard is intended to guide the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) in the development of standards for tuna imports in the European market. The APR seal was granted to seven firms belonging to the Organisation of Producers of Frozen Tuna (OPAGAC) to certify that their tuna was caught with sustainable methods by fishing vessels that do not violate their workers’ rights. Together these 7 fleets own 39 boats fishing in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, their crews total approximately 1600 workers.

The APR seal certifies that the tuna offered to retailers and end consumers complies with all the relevant standards, which in terms of labour standards is based on ILO’s C-188 (Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188))

In order to grant the APR seal, AENOR audits the tuna fishing boats for compliance with standard UNE 195006: ‘Ethical Tuna Fishing. Purse-seine Fishing Boats and Freezer Vessels’. This standard regulates occupational safety and social issues, as well as maritime and health controls.

The approach taken by this private sector group was to approach AENOR as the organisation legally responsible of development and diffusion of technical standards in Spain, and base their official compliance assessment as a state guarantee of impartiality that goes beyond the usual model of private certifications and ecolabels. This approach sets a baseline of good practices that could be replicated by industry groups based on one flag State as in this case or on various flag States under common beneficial ownership.

Development 3: WCPFC Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels

At the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) 15th Regular meeting in Honolulu in December 2018, Pacific Island States as FFA members and through their representative Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (FFA) tabled a proposal for a Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels. This was the first time that a labour proposal was tabled in any Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) on the global/regional stage.

Although this measure proposed by Pacific Island States was criticised by some for being ambiguous and uncertain in its effect it was adopted as a non-binding resolution (meaning that Members of the WCPFC are not, as yet, obliged to incorporate it into their legislation).

However, despite the criticism, Pacific Island States through their representative FFA have made it clear that this is an important issue for Pacific Islanders and this provides the opportunity to further pressure future meetings of WCPFC to make this a compulsory Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) at some stage, hopefully, in the near future.

After all, it is not a difficult stretch to make the link between fishing vessels registered to flag States who are interested in good regulation and workers’ rights with compliance with fisheries conservation and management measures. A formal CMM would also demonstrate leadership at an international level.

Therefore, in our view this is an important step, as an expression of what is important for Pacific Islanders who have the exclusive rights to the largest and most valuable EEZs globally. Further, it is significant and right (in our humble opinion) for a fisheries management body to express the importance of workers’ rights and health and safety issues that has also set a precedent for other RFMOs to follow.

Development 4: The incorporation of a labour component in a Taiwan fisheries legislation

Taiwan is a substantial player in world fisheries, and significant in the Pacific. Taiwan’s complex relationship with China has an impact on the way that Taiwan conducts its fisheries and meets its responsibilities as a flag State. Furthermore, its vessels and nationals have in the past been associated with the most notorious cases of labour abuses.

Partly because Taiwan was identified as a “non-cooperating state” in terms of IUU fishing by the EU who imposed a “Yellow card” in late 2015, Taiwan has revamped its legislation framework and included a labour component in its 2017/2018 Act for Distant Water Fisheries (link to translated version) where Article 26 reads:

Any distant water fisheries operator intending to hire abroad any foreign crew member shall obtain permission from the competent authority. Such hiring shall be done by the distant water fisheries operator itself or through domestic intermediaries or agents (hereinafter referred to as the agents).

The agents referred to in the preceding paragraph shall be authorized by the competent authority and shall deposit a certain amount of guarantee bond.

Regulations on the qualification of the foreign crew member, conditions for permission, required documents, rights and interests of the distant water fisheries operator and the foreign crew member, contents of contracts, conditions for authorization of the agents, period, management, conditions for revocation, rights and interests of the agents and the foreign crew members, contents of contracts, management responsibilities, the certain amount, submission and refund of the security, and other requirements as referred to in the preceding two paragraphs shall be prescribed by the competent authority.”

The Taiwan Fisheries Agency as the Competent Authority then endorsed the “Regulations on the Authorization and Management of Overseas Employment of Foreign Crew Members” which at least on paper makes substantial progress towards safeguarding the rights and benefits for foreign crews on distant water fishing vessels, and show other flag States what is possible

The regulation indicates the principle of “overseas employment, operation, and repatriation” is adopted due to the nature that Taiwanese distant fishing vessels conduct fishing activities in distant fishing grounds for a long period of time, and usually employ foreign crew members at foreign ports.

As the wage and other working conditions of these employed crew members are governed by the mechanism of the international labour market in principle the Taiwan government recognises it may not be the same as the domestically employed foreign labour in Taiwan to whom the Taiwanese Labour Standards Act is applied.

The 36 articles and forms of the regulation include quite advanced provisions to safeguard the rights of crew, such as the increased wage and specified working hours among others. Some of its main requirements include:

  • Minimum monthly wage is set as USD 450 per month (for reference purposes it is known that Vietnamese crew working in someChinese vessels make around USD 150 per month) and shall be paid directly to the crew member in cash or into the bank account designated by the crew member

  • Minimum daily rest time is set as 10 hours, and at least 4 days off per month is required. The vessel operator must also respect the need of the foreign crew member for religious holidays

  • The foreign crew member must have the accident, medical and life insurance, and the insured amount of the life insurance shall not be less than NTD$1,000,000. When a crew member is injured or sick during carrying out the duties, the vessel operator (master) shall arrange immediate medical treatment and shall pay the medical fees and other related expenses

  • The vessel operator shall cover the transportation costs of the round trip from the home country of the foreign crew member(s) to the port of embarkation and repatriation.

The Regulations also require that the vessel operators should provide easily accessible channels for crew for complaints filing, including a hotline for labour issues for the crew members on distant water fishing vessels. If any violations are detected, the Competent Authority will or should assist the crew members in retrieving their lawful benefits from the vessel operator and take punitive actions accordingly.

In addition, if any suspected violation of the “Human Trafficking Prevention Act” is found, the case will be referred to the judicial authority for investigation and due punishment, whether the vessel is registered to Taiwan or elsewhere but that owned (even partially) and operated by Taiwanese nationals.

The Taiwanese regulations include a series of forms that must be carried by vessels and operators, that will be useful and may be required in any event, for port and coastal States to assist in assessing compliance.

So far, these regulations have been implemented in the case of the vessel Fuh Sheng No.11accused of violation of ILO Work in Fishing Convention in Cape Town, South Africa. The investigations resulted in fines to the operators.

While the legislation by Taiwan is ground-breaking, it is too early to determine how far Taiwan will go to enforce the legislation.

Of course, despite the developments more solutions need to be found before working conditions on fishing vessels can be guaranteed to improve

Again, the above initiatives will not solve the fundamental problem of legal jurisdiction on areas beyond national jurisdiction where a flag State remains unwilling or unable to enforce standards.

Further problems exist for Pacific Island States because there are not uniform employment standards, including minimum wage standards, across all Pacific Island jurisdictions.

As well as these issues, there is the perennial and worrying problem of uninformed or misinformed crew members entering the fishing industry. In many places crew members are recruited who are unable to access any form of formal advice in relation to offers of work. The brokers or agents who recruit crew members may not be regulated under their own jurisdiction and as such the recruitment of crew members is another unregulated activity.

This may or may not be the case depending on the Pacific Island jurisdiction, with Fiji for example, making it compulsory for each foreign contract of service to be approved by the Ministry of Employment. However, this is not a uniform requirement across all Pacific Island jurisdictions and even where it is a required workers may still “slip through the gaps”, as it is well known that the crew members themselves may be distrustful or wary of authority during the recruitment process.

A 1998 FAO publication Social Issues in Fisheries - FAO FTP 375 expands on this problem:

10.3 Attitudes towards institutions and authorities

People’s attitudes to authority will also play a major role in shaping their responses to efforts to manage their fishing activity. Fishers the world over are renowned for being independent and suspicious of authority. This is as true in modern, industrialised fisheries as in artisanal fisheries in less developed countries.

In order to gauge what responses to different types of fisheries intervention might be, managers need to look at the history of management and assess how stakeholder communities have reacted to these interventions and also assess current opinions and attitudes towards authorities concerned with fisheries.

These attitudes towards the institutions responsible for fisheries can have a major influence on the extent to which future fisheries interventions will be observed. If a particular institution is commonly perceived by fishers as being either untrustworthy or dominated by particular sets of interests which are not necessarily sympathetic to the needs of fishers, co-operation is likely to be reduced. On occasions, the same set of fisheries interventions might succeed or fail simply depending on who it is that is seen to be enforcing them.

The brokers/agents working with prospective crew members may range from legally-regulated job placement agencies to informal setups (sometimes associated with people-smuggling and trafficking). In most cases, brokers/agents charge a fee to be paid against future earnings, which without good regulation may become a basis for debt bondage.

Further it is not uncommon for crew to be transferred from one broker to another, or brokers may source fishers for recruitment agencies or fishing vessels directly. Many crew may come from non-ocean fishing countries (i.e. Nepal, Laos) and will not be aware that they will be working on fishing vessels and what are the conditions until they find themselves in the harbour.

In relation to the practice of brokers/agents, it is important to understand the process of recruitment which usually starts with:

  1. The crew member signing up with an agent in their home State/jurisdiction based on various promises and assurances that may or may not be committed to writing (in any event the crew member may or may not be illiterate)

  2. An agent may then take the crew member to a vessel in a different State - X

  3. The crew member may then join a vessel owned and operated by a company from a different State - Y

  4. The vessel may be registered and therefore regulated by a different State - Z

At the end of this process the crew member may not have been provided with any accurate information during the recruitment process regarding his or her employment contract, working conditions and rights. As the crew member’s vessel leaves port, it is easy to see how vulnerable his or her position now is.

Importantly, the new Taiwanese legislation does include certain responsibilities and obligations relating to the crewing /recruitment agent or broker (if that agent is also Taiwanese) who is a key figure in the crewing sphere of the fishing industry and who usually is not bound by legislation/regulation.

Finally, a further area of interest is the role of the port State that (as in fisheries) can have a role if and when the vessel chooses to dock at the port State. At this point, port State jurisdiction applies and working and health and safety conditions on the vessel may become regulated by the port State. This is demonstrated by the recent South African enforcement proceedings.

However, this is still not a guaranteed solution because first, a vessel may choose not to enter a coastal/port State jurisdiction remaining outside these areas for years on end with their crew using other ships to dock with it to collect caught fish and refuel/restock. Secondly, many Pacific Island States, are not be sufficiently resourced to regulate foreign owned shipping vessels on issues around labour, nor is fair to expect them to do so.

The reality is that certain richer nation States, and New Zealand is a good example, can find ways to enforce standards in their own EEZs (NZ require all foreign fishing vessels to re-flag to NZ and require the fishing vessel to dock in NZ), but even then this does not extend NZ jurisdiction to areas beyond national jurisdiction. 


As in many other aspects of fisheries and indeed in all situations that present a complex problem, there is no “silver bullet” that will solve the problem.

Only the coordinated collaboration arising from state, industry and civil society working towards a common goal can have a positive impact in this problem.

While all of the above initiatives discussed above represent steps in the right direction, more must be done in this area to achieve a full international consensus and change to improve the rights of workers on fishing vessels. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Maintaining pressure at UN body levels in relation to this issue - i.e. there is international consensus against the transportation of slaves, why not for forced labour and human rights abuses aboard fishing vessels? Is there a minor amendment that could be made to LOSC?

  • Other States should follow the Taiwan example, sign up to and implement C-188 into domestic legislation

  • Continued collaboration between flag flag, port and coastal States supported by regional organisms and CSOs

  • Continued good work at the RFMO level - to follow the leadership of the FFA and the WCPFC to make compliance with labour standards (C-188) a CMM measure - this also links with better fisheries management

  • Incorporating minimum labour conditions (MLCs) on Licence Conditions, or as in the case of the FFA members, agree to MLCs (based on C-188) to be added to the Regionally-harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions (MTCs) for access by fishing vessels

  • Blacklisting vessels, agents and skippers/masters found to be associated with labour abuses

  • Industry voluntary adoption of minimum labour conditions consistent with at least C-188 (MLCs) as part of their verifiable standards

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but for change to happen collaboration is essential, and at an international level, forced/slave labour and human rights abuses should no longer be tolerated as part of the international law framework.

Thailand's deserved lifting of its "Yellow Card" by Francisco Blaha

I wanted to start 2019 with a good fisheries news, and even if it was on the cards for almost a month know, the news came out yesterday that DG MAERE lifted its “yellow card” card on Thailand.

PSMA for carriers in action

PSMA for carriers in action

And this is good news, not only for Thailand but for fisheries in general and for Tuna in particular. Let me explain:

Back in April 2015, I agreed that that it was a “good” yellow card, Thailand is perhaps the most complex fisheries country of the 58 ones I worked* … it it's a flag, coastal, port and processing state at once and for tuna is “the processing state”, add to that an incredible amount of private ports and thousands of processing establishments from all sizes, which make managing these fishing country as one of the most difficult ones in the world.

Add to that all the issues of eligibility around the DG SANTE side of seafood processing, plus the labour issues arising from migrant issues on and the scenario gets even more difficult

Imagine having to put ALL of the recommendations for Flag, Coastal, Port and Processing State I posted about.

Yet this is pretty much what my friend Dr. Adisorn Promthep, Director – General of the Thailand DoF and a cast of literally thousands did in less than 4 years.

And is no small feat… this is like getting an elephant trough a crystal shop… you know from the begging that there would be a lot broken stuff and really pissed off people that would like to have your head on a plate.

And here they are… they have done it!

well deserved smiles by my colleagues!

well deserved smiles by my colleagues!

I wrote about the bit of work I did with them last year, and how fast and far have they move and how positively surprised I was.

But for me the key issue to celebrate is that Thailand's DoF has shown to the world that with vision, leadership and guidance the most complex fisheries realities can be changed. And if owning the changes wasn’t good enough they have taking on board two massive international commitments on the adherence to the FAO PSMA and ILO 188.  

My biggest take from all this is that, if Thailand with all its intrinsic and unique complexities managed to work it out… then there are no real excuses for any other countries not to do the same.

I can only send my warmest regards for this long awaited, hardly fought totally deserved good news to all the colleagues and friends I worked with there… from PSM to catch accountancy, from VMS and IAS to EU eligibility, from licensing to landing controls… to all of you:  ขอแสดงความยินดี! (Congratulations!)

don’t be fooled… looks simple but there are 6 international jurisdictions in this image! Nothing is simple in Fisheries

don’t be fooled… looks simple but there are 6 international jurisdictions in this image! Nothing is simple in Fisheries

*(may be China would be more complex… but for different reasons)

An end of the year blog post about 5 years of writing this fisheries blog by Francisco Blaha

Last week was the 5th anniversary of my 1st blog post, and as you may see here, it looked very different then (even if the topic still as present as then). In fact the only reason I did that one was to see how it worked, as the Squarespace template in which I developed my website has as part of the package an image gallery and blog… hence if I’m paying of it, I better use it was my take. So here is blog about writing this blog 

If someone had told me then that 5 years later 61700 unique visitors would have 117000 page views! I would have just laughed out loud and asked for a bit of whatever they were having… but yeah those are the numbers.

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I honestly had no idea that so many people had an interest in fisheries, 24400 in 2018 alone… I'm sure it is less… I don’t know if it counts people visiting more than once as separated… in any case, I would have never thought that an abysmal writer like me would ever be a blogger (even I was presented as a blogger recently!!)

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Reality is that all this blog thing started as a way to disseminate information I think is important, also to show that while a lot of things are wrong, there is a lot of people trying to do the right thing. Finally also to express my personal view on topics from an angle that is not usually covered. I’m quite lucky to have had vessel experience and I spend lots of time on the wharves and offices of the people that are at the beginning of the fisheries value chain. I guess the fact that I don't get paid to write this or have a “paid” angle to promote, keeps me “independent”.

A few months ago a student from a well known fisheries school contacted me and told me that when with his friends they have assignments, they do a search on the topic on my blog search engine, and use it as reference source! It blew my mind!

The other massive surprise is the geographical coverage of the readership. For 2018 I just counted IPs of 182 countries and territories including Syria and Mayotte for example! Interestingly my most significant readership is in the country I work the less: the US with 25% of the readership, followed at a distance by the UK Australia and NZ all with a bit more of 5% each, and then it goes wide open with the Philippines, Spain, India, Canada, Fiji (8th biggest) all around 3 to 2%.

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So yeah wholly humbled by this, mainly because this is nothing that I planned or even tried hard, I had no idea of “new media” or anything like that when I started… and now I have been proposed for something called the Seafood Champion Awards under the advocacy category

Btw… if you feel like supporting my nomination before the 15 January, use the link above (or here) and fill the gaps with some nice words – otherwise contact me and I sent you the blurb that my nominators (who want to remain anonymous have written), they (and myself) will appreciate if you could donate some minutes to support me. Thanks

Back to the blog… I have no idea for how long I will maintain it, decidedly people read it. There are more sources of material to present than I ever could go through… B

But the best thing is the number of people that either personally or electronically have contacted me and say: Hi I’m so and so, and I read your blog and just wanted to say hello! That makes my day (and my years now!).

To all of you that read this fishy blog, a huge thank you!! I Hope you all have a good break and start 2019 in great style.

My thankfulness and respect to you all!

Management of Tuna Fisheries for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands by Francisco Blaha

One of the most read blog posts I have are two called Governance and Tuna Related Institutions in the Pacific part 1 and 2, that I wrote in September 2015. These posts explain the roles of the WCPFC, PNA and the roles of FFA and SPC, as well the place national fisheries administration have in these “system”. I was asked to update it a few times and also describe the Vessel Day Scheme that is run by PNA.

But such task takes time and care, with is exactly what my ex-boss in FFA Mike Batty and my friend and colleague there Viv Fernades have done. I have tons of respect for both, and Mike batty was one of the fist people that trusted me with important jobs in the region decades ago when he was in charge of the DevFISH1 project. I always been very thankful to him for that.

There is where my future is going

There is where my future is going

Viv has been with FFA only for a few years, but it has been great to get to know him and work with him, he has very unique background in environmental law and a passion for MCS, hope to keep working with him for along time

In this excellent paper “Management of Tuna Fisheries for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands” they explain how the cooperation by Pacific Island countries in the management of tuna fisheries is an important means of achieving sustainable development of these shared resources, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water). The Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fishery is the largest tuna fishery in the world and two examples of arrangements based on regional cooperation are provided:

  • The purse seine Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is a fisheries management system that is being implemented through the cooperation of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which regulates harvesting of tuna in line with SDG 14.4. The scheme also establishes rights in the shared fishery for small island developing states, increasing economic returns in support of SDG 14.7.

  • Regional cooperation in fisheries Monitoring Control and Surveillance is a unique collaboration between the members of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to address illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing in support of SDG 14.4. A range of regionally agreed systems and tools is applied.

I will quote the description of the institutional arrangements (from the intro of the paper as an update of “who does what” in the Pacific) and the discussion and conclusions. But I said every time, nothing beat the original, in particular the excellent description of the two examples with very good evaluation of their successes… this paper a compulsory read if you interested in Pacific tuna fisheries

I know the paper is paywall protected, yet with a bit of initiative and know who to ask or which websites to use you can get them for free (Personally I don’t have the budget to be subscribed to them, so I improvise and normally ask authors for the paper

Institutional Arrangements for International Cooperation in the Fishery

Tropical tuna and associated species are highly migratory, and the stocks ex-tend throughout the Pacific Islands’ EEZs and beyond. This shared nature of the fishery, the limited scientific and technical resources of the Pacific Island Countries, and the common issues faced in managing and developing their fisheries, has resulted in the establishment of a number of regional organisations to assist countries to cooperate in the management and development of the resource. The main regional organisations, in order of increasing geo-graphical extent, are the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). An overview of each, including their roles and objectives, is provided below.

The PNA are the eight countries whose EEZ’s contain the majority of the WCPO purse seine fishing grounds: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Established in 1982 as a group that faced common issues in their relations with distant water fishing nations (DWFN), the PNA implement two mutually agreed arrangements. The Federated States of Micronesia Arrangement (FSM Arrangement) is intended to support the development of domestic tuna industries and provides for vessels of a member country that meet certain criteria to have access to the EEZs of all other parties on terms no less advantageous to those provided to vessels of other countries. The Palau Arrangement provides for management of the tropical tuna fishery. In the case of the purse seine fishery, this was originally managed through an agreed limit on the total number of vessels, but has since been replaced by the purse seine VDS, which is discussed below. The New Zealand Territory of Tokelau, although not a member of the PNA, is a party to the Palau Arrangement.

There are also three implementing arrangements (IA) which provide a framework for compliance that are incorporated into national legislation or licence condition. These cover minimum terms and conditions of licencing and include: a requirement to carry observers on board purse seine vessels, requirements for vessels to be on good standing on a shared register of vessels, reporting and inspection requirements (the first IA); mandatory position reporting through a satellite based vessel monitoring system (VMS),  reporting of activities port-to port (i.e. including on the high seas) and a prohibition on transhipment at sea (the second IA); as well as a prohibition on the use of Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) for part of the year, and a ban on  the discard of tuna. Many of these requirements have also been adopted by the broader FFA membership.

FFA is an international organisation established under the FFA Convention in 1979. Its formation was directed by the leaders of the Pacific Forum, who recognised the need for a specialist agency to advise on the establishment and management of 200 nautical mile EEZs during the later stages of the negotiation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Members include all of the PNA members, as well as Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu; as well as Tokelau (the only member that is not an independent country). For the non-PNA members, their main fishery is the Southern longline fishery which mainly targets albacore. FFA provides a range of advisory services to its Pacific Island member countries on all aspects of tuna fisheries management and development, assists members develop a common position in the WCPFC and also manages the regional fisheries surveillance programme, discussed below.

SPC, formerly the Secretariat of the Pacific Community was established more than 70 years ago by the colonial powers in the region. Its membership includes the independent Pacific Island countries, the territories of France, Great Britain, New Zealand and the United States of America, as well as Australia, France, New Zealand and USA in their own right. SPC provides technical services to members in a range of areas. Its Oceanic Fisheries Programme is particularly relevant to the tuna fishery. This programme has conducted applied research and stock assessments of the regional tuna resources for many years and is the shared repository of all operational fisheries data for its members. SPC works directly with members, as well as with FFA and PNA, to meet members’ needs in the area of tuna fisheries science. It is also the scientific services provider for the WCPFC.

The WCPFC is a tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation  (t-RFMO) established in accordance with the United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 0  December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (un Fish Stocks Agreement). It is governed under a convention, which was ratified by most members in 2004. In addition to the FFA member countries, which worked as a bloc during the negotiation of the convention and comprise one of the two voting chambers, the WCPFC membership includes Indonesia and Canada, as well as the DWFN active in the Pacific region: China, Chinese Taipei, France, European Union, Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines and the United States of America, some of whom are also coastal States in the convention area. The extent of the WCPFC convention area mainly corresponds to FAO area 71.11 Boundaries are to the south of New Zealand in the South and enclose the EEZ of French Polynesia in the East, and while not precisely defined to the North and West, are considered to enclose part of the EEZ of Indonesia and extend up to the waters of Japan and Korea.

Thanks for your fish!

Thanks for your fish!

Discussion and Conclusions

The implementation of purse seine VDS and cooperative arrangements for MCS in the Pacific have been shown to contribute to efforts to effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (SDG 14.4) and increase the economic benefits to SIDs and Least Developed Countries in the region (14.7). The VDS has effectively capped fishing effort in what is by far the largest tuna fishery in the region, and halted some thirty years’ of growth in catches in PNA waters. None four of the main tuna stocks in the region are overfished or subject to overfishing. Since the scheme was introduced, government revenues from access fees have quadrupled, and the number of domestic fishing vessels and their share of the catch (in a fishery that has always been dominated by foreign fleets) has increased.

These cooperative approaches are tangible examples of how the Pacific Is-land countries are successfully moving towards achievement of these SDGs through progressive improvements in management of the purse seine fishery for tuna in their EEZs, and a growing ability to enforce the management regime through MCS. Regional cooperation between these small and economically vulnerable nations has been essential in achieving these gains.

The VDS has also illustrated that two goals of sustainable management and increased revenues are compatible. Just as SDG 14.6 argues for the elimination of subsidies which allow fishing to continue on depleted stocks, so the ability to charge high access fees (the opposite of a subsidy) is helping to ensure that stocks are maintained at levels which allow a profitable fishery. Indeed, it is likely that the recent decline in fishing effort recorded reflects the economic impact of high access fees. The number of purse seiners operating in PNA waters has fallen from around 275 from 2010–15 to only 259 in 2016 and 2017 as less efficient vessels have withdrawn from the fishery.

This final section aims to draw some general lessons from the experience of the Pacific Island countries with the implementation of the zone based management regime of the VDS and cooperative MCS strategies; consider to what extent it may be possible to replicate their success in other parts of the world; and review some threats and opportunities for the future.

The development of the VDS and regional cooperation in MCS has not been quick or easy. Both the PNA and the FFA have been in existence for nearly four decades, and each agreement to take a major step forward has required consultation to develop consensus, and follow-up at the national level for implementation and capacity building.

The success of the purse seine VDS reflects some unique characteristics of the WCPO fishery. The extent of the PNA EEZs and their importance as fishing grounds for the purse seine fleet gives the member countries considerable leverage and is in contrast to other oceans where much of the tuna fishing takes place on the high seas. The diversity of interests in the fishery allows for competition for the limited opportunities for access, while its economic profit-ability has allowed a large increase in fees.

In contrast, efforts by PNA members to develop a tropical longline VDS – for a fishery that is less profitable and is practiced mainly on the high seas –  have been less successful to date. Opposition by some of the major distant water fleets has seen many vessels restrict their operations to the high seas.  FFA members whose waters provide most of the catches of albacore have committed to the Tokelau arrangement, which aims to introduce zone based management to this important, albeit smaller, fishery. However, reaching agreement on a catch management scheme has proved challenging; while proposals by FFA members to introduce a target reference point in WCPFC that would lead to reduced catches and improve the profitability of the fishery have also not been accepted. Longline fisheries remain an area for further work.

The principle of zone-based rights established by the purse seine VDS – that allocation of fishing opportunities in a shared fishery should reflect the interests of the coastal States in whose waters fishing takes place – is an important one. It has found support from coastal States in the Indian Ocean, and has even been proposed as a basis for a new allocation of fishing quotas to Great Britain after Brexit. As shared tuna fisheries face growing pressure, and the need to limit catches or effort, one can expect the development of a strong view that the allocation process should not exclusively favour the distant water flag States. These fleets have already benefited from many years of access to the resource, and been responsible for the depletion of stocks to date.

Looking to the future, there would seem to be opportunities to further increase returns from the VDS. There are inefficiencies in the transferability of days between zones; and current practices of negotiating access arrangements for an entire national fleet mean that fees may be set at the level that is affordable by less efficient components of the fleet. There is also a risk that the least profitable vessels will continue to withdraw from the fishery, resulting in reduced competition for fishing opportunities. Ideally, days would be sold to individual vessels through a system such as a Dutch auction, which could match fee levels with ability to pay and ensure all days are sold efficiently.

The VDS has contributed to the growth in Pacific Island national fleets, which are taking a growing share of the purse seine catch. While the development of domestic fisheries, as opposed to  simply licensing foreign vessels, is a long-held ambition of many Pacific SIDS, there are also both threats and opportunities in these arrangements. In the best circumstances, these provide employment, economic opportunities for a range of supporting industries, and supply tuna to onshore processing plants which create jobs and exports. At worst, they may amount to little more than re-flagging to secure lower access fees, and actually reduce the contribution of the sector to gross national income. The capacity to analyse the economic benefits of such arrangements is not always present in Pacific Island administrations, where the governance arrangements around concessions for domestic vessels can also be weak.

Higher access fees, and restricted fishing opportunities in EEZs, also create incentives to avoid payment, either through fishing on the high seas or by fishing illegally. Since the introduction of the VDS, three fishing nations have negotiated increased opportunities to fish on the high seas through the WCPFC. Together with the high seas effort of Pacific Island flag vessels, there has been a steady growth in purse seine catches outside PNA waters since 2011.

While there is so far little evidence of increased illegal fishing, the validation of non fishing days is a potential area of abuse; and can be expected to result in increased pressure on fisheries observers. There is currently interest in detecting purse seine fishing activity from the VMS record, as well as the possibility of supplementing human observers with electronic monitoring through on-board video recording.

While it is believed that no other regions share the level of international cooperation on MCS seen in the Pacific, the transnational nature of much IUU fishing is driving a more coordinated international response to the problem in other parts of the world. 

There are now arrangements to share information and coordinate efforts between coastal states in West Africa and the Indian Ocean; and market based measures such as the EU IUU regulation and the EU Seafood Import Monitoring Programme may also assist in combating the problem.

While FFA members can have confidence in regional MCS systems for the tuna fishery, it is clear that the region is still a long way from the SDG goal of eliminating IUU fishing. Quantification of the relative importance of unreported catches necessitates more attention to this area, with opportunities for greatly increased use of electronic reporting and monitoring in the fishery. At the same time, the relatively low level of unlicensed fishing cannot be taken for granted, and systems to identify ‘dark targets’ using increased aerial surveillance and satellite imagery, remain a priority for FFGA.

In conclusion, while much remains to be done, the achievements of Pacific SIDS through cooperation in the management and sustainable development of their shared tuna resources gives grounds for optimism, and can perhaps provide some useful ideas for other regions.

How commercial fishing effort is managed by Francisco Blaha

Always when I meet people outside my fishy circles (or sometimes in them) the question arises around what you I do for a living. Then is slow process of explanations that I work around fisheries management issues and in particular combating IUU fishing in function of the management strategies being used. 

 Besides the “ohh wow how interesting” the next issue is… “what you mean with fisheries management?” And is true… most people have no concept on how that works or thinks that is just a set of rules and people policing them. 

For those situations, I should keep a copy of this paper named as in the title of this blog entry. Written by cast o thousand, all of them from the School of Aquatic and Fishery  Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, including my friend and FAO colleague Jessica Sanders, that is also doing her PhD there.

Table 1:  Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

Table 1: Summary of behavioural changes observed under each approach to effort management, with associated economic, ecological and community outcomes. Background shading indicates generally negative (red), mixed (yellow) or positive (green) outcomes; gradients reflect outcomes depend on other features of management

The key thing I like of this paper is that reinforces at really high level that one “size does not fit all’, “that are many way of pealing an orange” and my favourite “every has advantages and disadvantages”… even at that really highest level of fisheries decision making as is management.

One of the last paragraphs in the discussion synthesise it perfectly: “Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.”

This really interesting paper provide a synthetic overview of three approaches that managers use to sustain stocks: 

  1. regulating catch and fishing mortality, 

  2. regulating effort and 

  3. regulating spatial access. 

Within each of these approaches, they describe common restrictions, how they alter incentives to change fishing behaviour, and the resultant ecological, economic and community-level outcomes.

For each approach, we present prominent case- studies that illustrate behaviour and the corresponding performance. These case- studies show that sustaining target stocks requires a hard limit on fishing mortality under most conditions, but that additional measures are required to generate economic benefits. 

Different systems for allocation allow stakeholder communities to strike a locally acceptable balance between profitability and employment.

As usual I’ll just quote here the discussion where I love the options matrix with a colour scheme (a tool I been using a lot lately), but of course nothing beats reading the original.

Historical attitudes towards fishing were that resources were avail-able for access and that over- exploitation was impossible. While this may have been true with the technology and market conditions that prevailed for much of history, advances in harvesting technology such as mechanization and refrigeration have led to widespread over- exploitation in the absence of limitations on catch. There is building evidence that science- based management methods are reducing the incidence of biological overfishing (Worm et al., 2009), and in many cases, stocks are recovering (e.g., Murphy et al., 2015). This is largely the result of moving from management systems which less effectively restrict catch, towards the centre of Figure 1 to systems that enact biologically informed regulatory practices. But even in fisheries with good biological management, harvesters often still struggle to make money and support their communities (World Bank 2017).

Table 1 facilitates direct comparisons of the observed triple bot-tom line outcomes across management approaches. The left column relates the economic outcome to the behavioural change induced by the management approach. The behavioural changes observed in the fisheries reviewed above underscore that economic success requires more than selecting a target biomass which maximizes profit often called BMEY in the bioeconomic model given a fixed industry- wide cost and market structure. Rather, effort management induces behavioural responses to the need to compete for fish, which change the economic and social structure of the industry in predictable ways, at any target biomass. With open access or harvest guidelines, summarized in the top two rows, there is no restriction on entry, and additional harvesters enter whenever there is profit to be made. As with the post- WWII New England groundfish fishery, entry drives the fishery towards bioeconomic equilibrium, unsustainable levels of effort, and low or no profits. Simply presenting scientific estimates of harvest guidelines, without regulations or enforcement to limit mortality, does not change these incentives, as efforts to manage Atlantic sailfish demonstrate. In these cases, declining stocks are un-able to support those who entered when fish were more abundant, leading to community disruption. With a well- designed spatial component (bottom row of Table 1), stock collapse can be averted, but Galapagos Marine Reserve demonstrates that the economic tragedy of the commons remains.

Limited access (third row of Table 1) and input regulations (rows four and five) attempt to control the effect of increases in effort through new entry, but fail: as in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, limiting entry still induces incumbents to try to increase their share of the competitive harvest by capital stuffing. However, these competition- driven investments in vessels increase costs, and any biological benefit arises because the point where additional investment is no longer profitable is reached at higher biomass. Eigaard et al.’s (2014) survey concludes that the biological success of effort- based management controls is highly dependent on the ability to anticipate input substitution and changes in catchability attributable to technological change. New England groundfish’s efforts with limited access and days- at- sea demonstrate that sufficiently comprehensive controls are elusive, especially as transferability reallocated effort to those who could capital stuff more effectively, so that social and economic outcomes mirror those in unregulated fisheries.

When a hard total allowable catch is implemented (sixth row of Table 1), additional effort, through new entry or capital stuffing, does not result in additional mortality. As in British Columbia halibut, an appropriately set and enforced TAC ensures biological sustainability, even in the face of increasing capital. With a spatial component, when the scale matches the range of the target species’ life history, stock health can be improved, as in Japanese snow crab. However, harvesters must race to fish to effectively compete for a share of the catch, so they invest in more capital, engage in risky fishing practices and erode value through poor handling and flooding markets; those who refrain from the derby will lose market share to those who participate. Harvesters invest until the additional profits from more investment are less than its cost: a bioeconomic equilibrium at the TAC, with a combination of higher costs, lower revenue, increased employment volatility and reduced safety.

The competition for fish that drives overcapitalization and value- dissipating behaviour can be eliminated by determining the allocation of TAC among fishermen through IFQs or ITQs (rows eight and nine of Table 1), or through a catch share programme (row seven). Unable to increase their catch through additional effort, harvesters instead focus on maximizing profit from their fixed allocation by reducing costs and maximizing value. This shift from choosing effort to capture more, or a greater share, of the fish means the bioeconomic model, and the prediction of bioeconomic equilibrium, no longer applies. Correctly set and enforced TACs ensure biological sustainability, and the focus on maximizing profits makes the fishery economically successful. This is exemplified by the British Columbia halibut harvesters’ development of a fresh market that more than doubled the value of the product and dramatically increased profit-ability. Less intensive harvesting can affect the structure of the crew labour market, often reducing the number of short- season jobs in favour of fewer longer term, higher paying and safer jobs.

The Bering Sea crab fishery demonstrates that allowing the transfer of quota facilitates the compensated exit of high- cost operators, further enhancing fleetwide profitability. However, transferability also lets the market determine who benefits from fishing, which often leads to adverse social effects. Smaller, more isolated communities, which are often more dependent on fisheries, may have less well- capitalized harvesters and higher cost processors, leading quota to flow to other communities where operations are more profitable. Although the boat owners who are typically initially allocated quota sell voluntarily, their local crew do not have a choice in the sale decisions that erode an essential employment base within a community of people or of place. Further, the additional profits may accrue to active fishermen, as in Alaska halibut, or initial quota holders can choose to collect lease payments without fishing, as in Bering Sea crab.

Catch share programmes mitigate these adverse community outcomes by allocating quota to groups rather than individuals. Allocations to fishing groups provide incentives to coordinate on harvest effort and joint marketing as in Chignik, and catch timing and by- catch management as in the Rhode Island fluke sector. Such groups can also collaborate to manage “choke” species or by- catch species that limit the harvest of otherwise abundant species, by sharing information and establishing avoidance incentives (e.g., Holland & Jannot, 2012). Catch shares empower the community of incumbent harvesters, rather than markets, to determine allocations. Quota can be additionally allocated to non- harvester community groups, as in the Alaskan CDQ programme, to generate local fishery benefits, giving other stakeholders control over who fishes and receives fishery benefits.

These new tools allow participants to strike a locally accept-able balance between sustaining broad participation that provides high levels of social benefit, and providing high levels of economic benefits to participants. The collective experience in different management methods is that there is a trade- off, whose resolution de-pends both on the priorities of regulators and on the structure of the fisheries: social benefits accrue differently based on whether vessel owners, crew, processing owners and their workers reside in, and spend their income in, the fishing community of concern, and on where benefits are created in the supply chain (Branch et al., 2006).

Approaches that require limiting access, in particular, often engender controversy because designating a group that has the exclusive right to fish implies designating a group that does not. This is often minimized by granting access to all incumbents. However, in some fisheries, there are loosely invested people, or people who leverage access only when other resources (e.g., other fisheries or agriculture) are performing poorly. In areas with diverse employment opportunities, forcing harvesters to specialize within the portfolio of fisheries in which they have participated in the recent past in-creases their exposure to risks of biological and market variations in those fisheries (e.g., Kasperski & Holland, 2013). In poorly integrated economies, fisheries are sometimes viewed as an “employer of last resort” for coastal residents who need subsistence food or income in the event of crop failure or personal financial shocks, and limited access exchanges better outcomes for incumbent fishermen for a social safety net.

Community- based management approaches are not separately included in Figure 1, because community management refers to who has the right to regulate access and harvest, not the approaches to regulating effort analysed here. Regardless of how incentives are established, we expect a community- based management process selecting any of the effort controls discussed to observe the same outcomes. However, involving the regulated community in the management process may still improve outcomes through two mechanisms. First, involving the community in management draws on their expertise about the actual operations in the fishery, and provides managers a sense of what types of measures will meet management goals at least cost. This increases the legitimacy of management and increases compliance and effectiveness (Jentoft, Mccay, & Wilson, 1998; Kuperan & Sutinen, 1998). Second, communities may be able to work together to establish a political consensus around more effective management methods. Both the Chignik co- op and Rhode Island Fluke Sector, which achieved significant triple bottom line successes for their fisheries, were discontinued following disagreements by non-participating harvesters, reflecting the importance of community acceptance of even very effective measures. 

The economic effectiveness of catch share programmes leads to a perverse argument that selling access and harvest rights makes it more difficult for new entrants to participate in the fishery. Fishing quota and permits are valued, like all assets, as the present dis-counted value of the stream of profits to which the permit provides access. Entering open access fisheries is free, but that right also has little value because open access fisheries generate little profit. The value of a limited entry permit in a fishery where limited entry is binding is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing in that fishery. The value of an individual quota share is the present discounted value of the profits from fishing that quota. Therefore, if entry is more expensive in individual quota- based fisheries, it is because they are more profitable, which is likely to be the case given the incentives for maximizing market value and minimizing costs established by individual allocation. In fact, quota which subdivides the fishery rents into more units may make participating in ownership more accessible, as younger fishermen can slowly acquire shares, in-creasing their desirability as crew, without purchasing a critical mass of capital to have a fully independent business. Auctioning these permits or quota allows the government to capture much of the fishery’s rent, rather than harvesters; allocating permits to community leaders, rather than members of the fishing industry, allows local political processes to determine who benefits.

Over the last three decades, fisheries management has demonstrated the ability to attenuate overfishing and sustain stocks and global catches around 90 million tonnes (FAO, 2016). However, not all approaches to management lead to ecological success in all cases. Some are easily circumvented in most applications. Others may be effective for highly fecund species with a weak correlation between spawning stock size and the number of young (e.g., shrimp, forage fish), but not work with more structured stocks. Still others may sustain stocks in geographically isolated fishing communities, but not be robust to the pressures of globalization.

Even among biologically effective approaches, methods differ in how they trade off harvesting at low cost and paying many fishermen, and how they distribute the benefits of fishing among industry and community stakeholders. How best to strike these balances in any fishery is ultimately not a question of science, but rather one of the politics: scientists’ role is to advise the decision- makers recognized by civil society on the most likely outcomes of alternative approaches.

Scientists should help decision makers draw the correct lessons from data, models and past experiences. That different sustainable approaches support different suites of outcomes provide a powerful policy lever that enables policymakers to select the fishery benefits that best suit the needs and values of their stakeholder communities.

A good WCPFC 15 by Francisco Blaha

As I mention last week, most of the people I work with where in Honolulu for the 15th WCPFC meeting. And from the feedback I had was good one! Better than in other occasions.

finally, one for them at the WCPFC!

finally, one for them at the WCPFC!

Two of the issues I was quite invested were agreed:

The draft for a Minimum Labour standards resolution. I have to admit that this one surprised me! I was ambivalent, on one side I know that many of the DWFN would not be keen, but on the other side there has been a lot of media on the topic, and honestly what we asked wasn’t much! And it went trough, even if in a diluted way, as a non-binding resolution, and as a an exercise in constructive ambiguity, but is there now! And pressure can be built upon from now on all meetings. Furthermore, this is the first RFMO to take this critical step for addressing labor standards for crew on board fishing vessels. 

Which if you think, is quite incredible… A maori proverb says it clearly:
He aha te mea nui o te ao (What is the most important thing in the world?) 
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

The other one I’m personally pleased is the revision of the present (2009) transhipment measure, which is totally inadequate (as I discussed here). This will need a lot of work since my collages in MIMRA volunteer to co chair (with the USA) the inter-sessional working group to review the current transhipment measure. And as my work in RMI has been extended, part of my work will be to deal with it.

Another big ones are:

  • The adoption of the South Pacific albacore Interim Target Reference Point, this has been long time coming, and open the doors for other species to come.

  • The extension of the provision of the Tropical Tuna Measure arrived at a compromise worked out late on the last day of the meeting.  This includes continuation of provisions for a three-month prohibition on use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners in exclusive economic zones and high seas areas between 20°N and 20°S from July 1-September 30, and an additional two-month prohibition on FAD use on the high seas. By consensus, these FAD closures were extended for an additional two-year period, through the end of 2020. As part of the compromise, PNA members agreed to compromise language regarding the definition of FAD sets in 2019 and agreed to work with others on this broader issue.

  • The decision to provide compulsory funds to the Special Requirements Fund, which will help boost participation of Small Island Development State representatives in the decision-making processes of the Commission. 

  • The adoption of a measure for the Compliance Monitoring Scheme. This will allow for continued monitoring and assessment of compliance by all Commission Members with the Commission's obligations.

Big part of the “success” relates to the work of the Pacific Island delegates to the meeting and FFA during the year, but also the very able leadership of outgoing Chair my friend a colleague Rhea Moss-Christian after 4 years in that complex role… she has been awesome. 

So everyone goes home and chill till January, when the fisheries routine starts again… Congratulations to all my colleagues that made all this good news possible, and enjoy your time off with family!

CDS for deep-sea fisheries in ABNJ by Francisco Blaha

Those who read this blog would know the I have a lot of respect for my friend and college Gilles Hosch, and our friendship goes back to over 20 years. The fact that we both work on CDS and MCS is based on our common views on the fisheries world we love, while coming from very different backgrounds.

Gilles’ 3rd book dives deep into the CDS hardest fisheries, just like the guys in the picture

Gilles’ 3rd book dives deep into the CDS hardest fisheries, just like the guys in the picture

What ever he writes, you know is carefully crafted and deeply researched, and therefore compulsory reading. His lates CDS book Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ - Their value, and options for implementation tackles the hardest fisheries from a CDS design angle abut also from a fisherman perspective. (as someone that fished Toothfish and Orange Roughy, I can give attest that!).

Back in 2016, he wrote the definitive volume on tuna CDS, and why some in the fisheries world may not agree with the scope and extent of what he proposes, but one must know that any Tuna CDS below the standards he sets in his book will be, literally, a substandard CDS.

In 2017 we co-authored what could have been the 1st CDS book, since from the start it was evident to us that while we all discuss the CDS details, we forget that the success of a CDS is at it roots, on a minimal set of support mechanisms that correlate MCS and traceability at each type of State (flag, coastal, port, processing and end market), along the fish product value chain

He now put its name to the 3rd book on the series, Catch documentation schemes for deep-sea fisheries in the ABNJ - Their value, and options for implementation. A book I was honoured to be a reviewer.

This new book discusses the potential value of catch documentation schemes (CDS) in deep-sea fisheries (DSF), and the implementation modalities that have to be envisaged, to ensure the effectiveness of this trade-based tool to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The paper argues that CDS are indeed capable of directly addressing a number of IUU fishing practices known to occur in DSF, and that their adoption would improve compliance with fisheries management requirements.  

Key infringements that may be directly detected and addressed through a CDS include – but are not limited to – violations of closed areas harbouring protected vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) in the deep ocean, and quota overfishing. 

The paper also establishes the notion that partial coverage of given species through a CDS at the level of individual RFMOs is incongruous from a trade monitoring and control perspective, and that CDS should be considered as either/or propositions with regard to species coverage.

With most DSF species having broad distributions straddling many RFMOs, the implementation modality that avails itself as the most suitable option, enabling the operation of an effective CDS, is that of a centrally operated electronic CDS platform – called a super-CDS – shared by a plurality of institutional and state players.

As before, Gilles Hosch dives deep and does not leave stones unturned. You’ll be ill-advised to work on CDS without reading this book. And while eyebrows may be raised at the concept of a “super CDS”… just think that every time you take money from any ATM in any place in the world, you are using a system and a set of technologies that don’t go too far on its principles from a “worldwide CDS” but for money.

Chapter 1 introduces deep-sea fisheries  and catch documentation schemes . While deep-sea fisheries have been the object of a series of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, catch documentation schemes find their origin in voluntary instruments such as the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA-IUU) – and most recently in the Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes adopted by the FAO Conference in Rome in July 2017. The paper establishes whether a catch documentation scheme (CDS) would be useful when applied to deep-sea fisheries (DSF), and it what form (i.e. under which “implementation modality”) execution should occur.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the 2008 FAO International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas and their thrust, followed by an overview of deep-sea fish, associated ecosystems, and their fisheries. 

Chapter 3 introduces catch documentation schemes, starting with a summary of what schemes are currently in existence. The recent (2017) FAO Voluntary Guidelines for CDS are introduced, and their purpose and content is discussed in detail. The paper then delves into an assessment of the benefits and limitations of unilateral and multilateral schemes, setting the stage for the discussion of multilateral CDS approaches in DSF, and as applied within the context of DSF management rules. The latter part of the assessment highlights which management measures a CDS is able to implement directly or in combination with other for monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools, establishing their value as a tool to combat IUU fishing in DSF. The latter part of chapter 3 introduces harmonised CDS, and presents the rationale for such harmonisation. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is briefly described, presenting its certification scheme, and its use of a single platform and set of rules to cater for the trade certification of thousands of different species of animals and plants – including fish – under a single scheme. The notion of the global “super-CDS” – the logical end-point of harmonisation and acceptance-of-equivalence efforts – arises from this discussion.

Chapter 4 illustrates how DSF management frameworks are sensitive or conducive to CDS implementation, what typical IUU profiles are found in DSF, and what the capacity of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) is in terms of developing and operating stand-alone (or “RFMO-specific”) CDS. The standing and consideration of CDS systems in RFMO performance reviews is assessed, in order to gain an understanding in how far the adoption of such systems by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) covering DSF has been considered in the past, and what arguments have been advanced in favour of, or against such systems.

Chapter 5 deals with the  trade in DSF, as trade conditions the relevance and the success of a trade-based tool to a very large degree. The paper establishes that the current Harmonized System (HS) classification of goods does not allow to confidently identify consignments of deep-sea species in trade documentation – with the exception of toothfish – and that a deeper analysis of DSF product trade flows in the absence of CDS data and/or enabling HS classification is very difficult. The role of customs and border inspection agencies is introduced, and CDS and their related paperwork – and the potential multiplication of individual schemes that could occur – is assessed in relation to those agencies. It is argued that a potential multiplication of schemes covering only modest amounts of total global fisheries product trade is unsustainable and likely to face implementation challenges at this critical level.

Chapter 6 lists key findings regarding the value and options for CDS implementation. The overall conclusion, arguing that the individual CDS in DSF (based on the classic RFMO-specific implementation modality) is both unsustainable and likely to fail. It highlights the benefits of a multilateral global “super-CDS”, catering for the needs of many species (throughout their global distribution ranges), a plurality of RFMOs and many states – based on a single platform provided by a central service provider. The chapter closes by suggesting a way forward to exploring and bringing about such a modality.

The 15th Regular Session of the WCPFC by Francisco Blaha

While I start another of our great NZ cycling rides with my family as our holidays, many in my “fisheries family” are all in Honolulu where the 15th WCPFC session starts tomorrow. Is the biggest thing ins Pacific fisheries… ridiculous amount of people, money and work gets put into this marathon meeting.

He is never going to be at WCPFC meeting, yet the people there is deciding on his life and future

He is never going to be at WCPFC meeting, yet the people there is deciding on his life and future

In a totally unfair table coastal states (mostly developing countries) sit in the table with massively rich and subsidising countries and suppose to find “consensus” on measures that are mostly the interest of the coastal states (is their fish and life) against the wishes and desires of the DWFN. 

I been invited by my host in RMI to be part of their delegation… but I had enough with TCC this year. While the politics, backroom deals and pure hypocrisy of many delegates can be very interesting, it totally frustrates me. Furthermore 5 days in a room does take a toll on me. I know is part of my job and future, but as a consultant I’m out of the picture there. The meeting is for the countries and the regional organisations.  

One thing that has kept me alive in the consulting business is being totally honest about my limitations... and those jobs hits me right in on the two biggest: meetings and writing.

I do well with reading, strategies, training, getting into the guts of boats, finding out the tricks vessels masters do (I used to do them too), sitting with the App programmers and then doing beta testing, and quite a few more things... but I suck at writing big documents and at dealing with people that bulshit in meetings, (i.e. TW, CN saying that their Longline fleets would be economically collapsed if they were agree to ban on at sea transhipments… yea right! I could have jumped on their desks and said “how dare you!!!”)

I see these guys (mostly DWFN long term bureaucrats!) making massive decisions that stop advancements and condemn fishers and coastal countries to be the “working poor” and they never been on fishing boats, they have no idea of what is to work like a mule to earn in year what they spend in hotels coming to this meetings, while they are thinking they know everything about fisheries… really pisses me off! 

I guess my diplomatic skills have a way to go before i feel i can be usefull in these meetings.

Anyway… The agenda shows you the variety of topics to be dealt with: but some of the ones I’m more keen to see passing (yet I know is low chance dire to that hypocrisy I talked before are:

Strengthen management of at-sea transshipment for longline vessels to address non-compliance with existing WCPFC measures. FFA Members' long-term objective regarding transhipment regulation has been to facilitate all transhipments in the Convention Area occurring in port. This is consistent with Article 29{1) of the WCPF Convention which provides that 'the members of the Commission shall encourage their vessels, to the extent practicable, to conduct transhipment in port'. However, the current levels and regulation of high seas transhipment activity are inconsistent both with Article 29(1) and the objective of the WCPF Convention. Furthermore the DWFN transhipping on the high seas have not provided evidence regarding their efforts to encourage their vessels to tranship in port. 

The review of Transhipment measure is long overdue. The measure was negotiated a decade ago and, more importantly, there have been notable deficiencies in its implementation and ability to sufficiently regulate transhipment activity in accordance with the WCPF Convention.

The other one I’m personally interested (since I had a bit to do with this proposal) is the FFA proposal for a Resolution on Labour Standards for Crew on Fishing Vessels. This another one that has been long overdue.

This is the 1st time that a labour proposal is tabled in RFMO (which is incredible). And while I know that this is as my friend Transform said: “an exercise in constructive ambiguity, and the problem with getting a measure like this through is to make it ambiguous so you are seen to be doing something when you are not really doing anything”. I like to think that at least is on the table and obliges people to talk about it and hopefully identify who will be opposed and then let public opinion work on that! I’m encouraged that is on the table (and is more and more on the big decision taking bodies) and then with time it can be adjusted... otherwise is the status quo... which is obviously not working.

L1070496 2.jpg

 The other areas of key need for the region that need to be dealt for ensure long-term sustainability are:

  • Accelerate the development of harvest strategies of all tuna species

  • Avoid increasing bigeye and yellowfin fishing mortality

  • Strengthen FAD management by adopting mandatory use of non-entangling designs, complete reporting of FAD tracking data, science-based limits on FAD deployments

  • Reform the WCPFC compliance assessment process

  • Increase longline observer coverage to 20% and ultimately 100% (human/electronic) consistent with the requirements for the purse seine fishery.

I can only wish lots of strength to my friends at WCPFC meeting in Honolulu to keep the good fight, and to suggest the delegates to look into the eyes of the fisherman in the picture and spare a thought for the ones like him, that will never go to any WCPFC meeting (or any fisheries meeting really) yet their life depends more than almost anyone else, on the decisions being taken there.

Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them by Francisco Blaha

Getting to the end of a long year does not always help concerning mood and willingness to travel. Yet going to a place that you love, have friends and have seen grow immensely over the years does always help. So when I was asked by FFA to come to Noro in the Solomons to assess the systems and controls we put in place during 2016-17, I jumped to the opportunity.

the newest ideas may start by next to a open fire kettle

the newest ideas may start by next to a open fire kettle

I said many times that Noro is what fisheries should be in the Pacific, locally caught, processed and exported. I have been coming here since 1998 and the only canned tuna I eat comes from there. They have the only MSC certification I wholeheartedly agree with, and they are going towards “Fair Trade” certification as well. In between NFD (the fishing company) and Soltuna they employ over 2500 people of which less than 15 are expats.

A lot of this uniqueness in compliance and sustainability drive comes to the attitude of the Wickham family that had been a the steering of the company since the beginning and the positive support of Trimarine their capital and distribution partner. The Wickham family has treated my family and me as part of the extended family so coming over feels like visiting family.

And this feeling is enhanced as I was again a guest of my friend and colleague Dr Transform Aqorau… I say again because I stayed at his house in Majuro, while he was the head of PNA. (if you think you know about tuna fisheries and don’t know who Transform is, you don't know tuna fiheries).

After leaving PNA he took on a series of other wide-ranging commitments that are all based on a common goal we share… innovation.

Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” And we have been trying to work out problems in fisheries with the similar mindset that created them. Yes, I agree, the arsenal of tools and technology has expanded… but the core seems to be the same. We need to open the field and thing differently.

And that is the reason I like having long conversations and sparring of ideas with Transform, but even more so when on his ancestral family land in Rakutu. Sitting on the outdoor kitchen, with an open fire and having some kava, we discussed changes and ways to deal with the present set of problems but under a traditional and culturally respectful approach.

Francis Hezel, in his seminal book “Making sense of Micronesia” (2013) said: “Changes may have to be made, as they must in any culture, but we outsiders should at least understand some of the broader contexts of Island culture before we begin leading the charge for change according to our own formulas”

And this for me always has been a hint that we are trying to fix problems with the same mindset that created them. We need to try different approaches… the solutions from aircon meeting rooms haven’t entirely worked… so why not try ideas coined by the open fire next heating water in a black kettle?

I was 12 by the time I first lived in a place with electricity. Living without it and under shared spaces in “not foreign” to me, so while this life may be “new” (by being old) to most of my colleagues from “developed” countries, it totally felt like home to me; hence I’m very thankful to Transform for his hospitality.

The irony of sorts is that while in his open kitchen we discuss a lot a joint project we have that is called eNoro. The objective of this project is to pilot test the digital integration of all port MCS related activities in the port of Noro, Solomon Islands. The data to be integrated will include the requirements of the WCPFC PSM CMM, unloading monitoring, factory “weight in” and processed product volumes exiting Noro. The system is to ‘mass balance” inputs and outputs and be ready for an eCDS. The system would be using tablet-based Apps under the present capabilities of PNA FIMS, SPC and FFA platforms


Hence we are using a high tech yet totally holistic approach while enjoying traditional life… also, we are keen on exploring incentive-based compliance and way to change the present model of selling fishing rights towards owing fish all the way to the product end.

He is (and has been) an innovator, but what I have respected the most is that while being the head of PNA, he decided to spend time on a purse seiner as to understand fishing from its roots, I yet have to know any other manager at his level to have done that.

If it were only for that, he would already have my full respect!

A further trait we share is that you can still appreciate and like someone, even if to disagree profoundly with some of his ideas… and this is also something I’m always keen to stress.

In any case, this was a short but beneficial mission that had a huge human element to it, something a fully appreciates. So thank you Transform, Cynthia and Edmond, Dave and the extended families of each of you for again making me feel at home while trying to do my job the best I can!

Framing social responsibility in fisheries by Francisco Blaha

It has been quite busy lately, full last week of my yearly visits to Majuro and preparing a workplan full of new challenges and gear for our port operations there, followed up by over 22 hrs flight (each way) to Namibia to do a workshop on the minimal MCS elements for even start talking about a CDS and the ways to overcome the shortcomings of the EU Catch Certification Scheme by building up your domestic systems at home.

good luck my friend

good luck my friend

Yet I’m slowly diving into my “new” contract for FAO as a Senior Expert in Social Guidance and Fishery Value Chain. Is strange to be invited to work on a topic outside my usual specialities, that is the reason I was so doubtful… I can imagine how shitty must feel to people that has been working on this for a long time, and then some ex fisherman / become consultant that work on IUU on tuna and writes a blog, get to be responsible to make position paper for FAO. 

I guess the reason is because people at FAO know me and trust me, and as far as I know they asked around and most people was happy to see me involved, I can only assume that is based on a realistic and unbiased view of my sector.

I think that when people are in my present position, you have two choices: either I surround yourself with people that are less knowledgeable than me so I look smart, or I look for people that really know their stuff, then you listen, learn and make sure that the doors to the decision makers I have access too (from all these years in fishing) remain open, and perhaps a bit of “these guys are with me” when getting looked down by part of the sector that may resist change. 

The 1st option has been always a no, so the 2nd one was the way to go. Hence I contacted Katrina Nakamura, whom I have known now for a few years and recently published a brilliant paper I blogged here, if she was keen to work with me on this, and I’m really happy she accepted.

Since getting on the job, I been reading a lot and trough Katrina and Jack Kittinger (whom I also recently meet) and I was quite taken by this little one sent to Science “Committing to socially responsible seafood”, was written by by a cast of thousands and I only so far I got to a few of them (besides Katrina and jack) I know Aurora Alifano and Mariah Boyle from fishwise and Jonathan Peacey from NZ that used to be with Conservation International at the time.

 In any case, they developed a comprehensive framework for social responsibility, responding to a need for alignment around a shared, transdisciplinary approach, informed by a strong scientific basis to support policy and practice. 

I quote parts below, yet read the original

 Policy instruments such as the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, and the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights are already being used by governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations as the basis for action on specific issues, such as human rights and labor. Our framework unites a diverse set of social issues that have heretofore been fragmented and is informed by social science research on human rights, natural resource management, and international development.

Our framework is also informed by practical experience from organisations and experts that work in the seafood sector and is supported by a strong legal and policy basis for implementation, as indicated by review of international law, policy, and guidance (table S1).

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Over the past several decades, the scientific community has invested sizeable effort in determining key elements for environmental sustainability in fisheries standards. A similar effort is now needed for social responsibility, yet comparatively little research effort has been invested in the social dimensions of seafood sustainability. 

As a result, the seafood sector has largely been in a reactive stance, responding to visible issues associated with slavery and human rights. Although these egregious violations must be eliminated, social responsibility encompasses far more, and a narrow focus overlooks other pervasive issues that have real-world impacts on billions of people.

 The framework comprises three components:

  • (i) protecting human rights and dignity and respecting access to resources,

  • (ii) ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit, and

  • (iii) improving food and livelihood security.

Protecting human rights requires that fundamental human rights are respected, labor rights are protected, and decent working conditions and safety standards are provided, particularly for at-risk groups. Human rights violations range in severity from the most egregious, such as slavery, to less acute but pervasive practices such as abrogation of wages, poor working conditions, and restrictions on freedoms. Violation of these rights in the seafood industry has been observed in both developing and developed economies. 

A largely overlooked, but critical, aspect of human rights is rights to resources, including traditional tenure and access rights. These social, economic, and cultural rights are central to many indigenous management systems and are especially relevant in small- scale and customary fisheries that supply most of the catch for direct human consumption but where regulatory institutions to protect fishers’ interests are generally lacking. 

Ensuring that seafood is equitably produced requires that benefits derived from its production accrue to all participants in the supply chain (e.g., fishers, processors, and distributors), not just those with not just those with financial or political power. 

Ensuring equality requires that workers receive appropriate recognition, voice, and engagement, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or socioeconomic status. Marginalized groups, such as women, are often discounted in terms of their role, knowledge, or influence in fisheries, and the high prevalence of migrant labor in the seafood industry can create conditions ripe for discrimination. Failure to recognise issues of equity and social justice can result in misguided policies, often with consequences for small- scale producers, minorities, or women.

Improving food and livelihood securityrequires that ocean-dependent communities, some of the most vulnerable people in the world, do not suffer from the global seafood trade. In coastal fisheries in Africa, for example, extraction by foreign fleets is reducing the availability of fish, the main source of animal protein, affecting both nutritional and income security. Such practices place vulnerable populations at risk and run counter to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Businesses are obligated under international policy to ensure that their practices do not undermine food and livelihood security, including providing fair access to markets and preserving capabilities for workers to generate income in the face of social and environmental change. Businesses can do more than mitigate their impact and should seek to improve livelihood conditions where they operate and ensure food security where seafood is a critical component of diets .

This framework can aid in global alignment among governments, businesses, civil society and nonprofit organizations, driving integration of social responsibility into policy, practice, and ultimately performance in the sector. Here, we identify opportunities for the scientific community to support this transition by providing relevant knowledge to inform actionable approaches toward social outcomes.

First, ocean science must evolve, incorporating a stronger focus on social dimensions and their linkages to environmental issues. Social science is embedded in sustainability science, but key social science concepts such as agency, inequality, and social justice are missing from many sustainability efforts, and social science research capacity in the sector is woefully inadequate. 

Environmental challenges -including habitat destruction, overfishing, and resource collapse- threaten the viability of livelihoods and food security and create conditions for discrimination  and subversion of human rights. Social and environmental issues often overlap in the same geographies, such as Southeast Asia, a hotspot of overfishing and labor issues. In these areas, slavery and forced labor depress the true cost of extraction, which distorts the market and promotes overexploitation. 

The research community can play a timely and important role in assessing the linkages between environmental sustainability and social issues, bringing necessary expertise together to inform responses by businesses, government, nonprofits, and communities. The UN SDGs explicitly recognise the link between ecosystem health and human well- being, but more integrated approaches need to be developed to address these issues in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Second, the scientific community has a major role to play in research, monitoring, and analysis of the seafood sector, including developing rigorous, objective approaches to evaluate performance. Evidence-based assessments are needed to understand the scale of social abuses and the efficacy of approaches, particularly as governments begin to translate existing international laws, policies, and guidance (table S1) into domestic laws, regional initiatives, and regulations to improve industry practices. Social science provides a strong foundation for these approaches, and existing performance indicators and tools need to be adapted to meet this challenge. 

The research community can also integrate social responsibility indicators into globally accepted performance standards for sustainable seafood by ratings and certification schemes, reducing the prevalence of social abuses and risks for businesses. Continued development of research approaches, tools, and technologies will be critical, particularly to ensure transparency and accountability, to reduce risk and secure market incentives for businesses, and to produce credible information while considering the sensitivity and risk associated with researching these issues.

Third, the research community must be responsive to real-world needs. The current level of commitment to integrating the priorities of stakeholders and decision-makers into research is inadequate. This requires more than simply training and hiring more social scientists in the sector, it requires a shift in 

  • the way social and environmental research is conceptualised and conducted together with stakeholders, 

  • the expertise prioritised in the development of research capacity and initiatives, and 

  • the level  of resources directed toward these issues. 

This requires prioritising the coproduction of knowledge with the scientific community engaged together with stakeholders in a participatory approach to develop re- search initiatives that have a clear pathway for implementation in practice. The ocean science community can benefit from experience in other production sectors -including agriculture, forestry, energy, and mining- that have addressed similar challenges by investing in shared strategies, a strong multidisciplinary evidence base, and collaborative institutional arrangements and global research networks.

By 2030, the oceans will need to supply 152 to 188 million metric tons of seafood to nourish a growing population. Fulfilling this demand in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner will require increased investment from public and private sources, so that the level of resources and expertise committed is commensurate with the scale of these challenges. Across the sector, organisations that work on environmental sustainability issues will need to work more closely with socially focused organisations, as these issues are intrinsically linked and require joint investments. 

The global conversation about social issues presents an opportunity for the seafood sector to take steps to ensure that a healthy ocean will support human well-being, now and into the future.

Back to Namibia (after two decades) by Francisco Blaha

When I was working in Mozambique with my family in 2002 when I left someone told me “you can leave Africa, but Africa does not leaves you” and while for me that rings a bigger bell with the Pacific (instead of Africa). I have to admit that I was quite happy when I was asked to come to Namibia, even if it was to run a workshop on an area that I become a reluctant specialist… the EU Catch Certification Scheme.

The cold and grey Atlantic… where my fishing life started

The cold and grey Atlantic… where my fishing life started

It is organised by SADC, WWF and my friends at Stop Illegal Fishing, so is good to work with people one likes.

I have a couple of rules in my job, one is to do at least two jobs outside the pacific every year and the other is to go to new places, and even if I was in Namibia in 97 during a Orange Roughie foray with a NZ fishing company and is a beautiful country. It must look very different after 21 years and I already did work in Asia and the US this year… besides I also miss the cold and grey Atlantic (as you see in the picture) which is my first ocean love. Also one of my favourite songs ever is called Namibia.

Yet Swakopmund where I’ll be working is a rather strange city since has a lot of German colonial architecture. It was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for German South West Africa, and a small part of its population is still German-speaking today, and the local supermarkets are full of germat type food

Interestingly is a capacity development workshop on the EU IUU Regulation in the South West Indian Ocean but done by the Atlantic… there you go with development logics…

Is a 21 hrs flight from Waiheke, but it just feels right to do some work here and meet new people that may get some benefit from my work based on these two documents (MCS for CDS and EU Market Access) I wrote in the last couple of years.

Vessels Agents and Port State Measures by Francisco Blaha

As I commented here, port agents have a busy life in some ports in the Pacific. They are the nexus in between the land and most of the necessities of the fishing vessel and the fish, from engine parts to certificates for the fish, from helicopter fuel to the observer accommodation while waiting for the vessel.

Business is always good for the agent

Business is always good for the agent

But critically, they are the ones that let authorities know the vessel is coming to port and often provided all of the information required to the fisheries administration, should any be required at all.

These processes and a lack of real time reporting during the trip provide opportunities for vessels to hide offending. Ideally the vessel should request entry via e-reporting tool. This would give the fisheries administration key advantages as it would oblige the vessels to use e-reporting tools of their choice, provided it was compatible with the administrations system, otherwise they cannot notify their arrival and request entry to port as required by Ports State Measures and subsequently they would not be able to unload.

If vessels were to request port entry via an App, inspectors in port would be able to use this time for advance notification to interrogate the logsheets in advance of arrival. They could analyse volumes, positions, days of unusual fishing and this would allow verification and the development of intelligence through the use of other tools such as VMS, AIS and e-observer (if they have it).

The "advance notice for port entry element in the Apps" has been talked about, but for now, as a whole, most regions in the world depends on the agents, and very little information is captured on these Agents, on the whole, especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product.

Despite there being little knowledge held on these agents, there is currently no past or future study in the Pacific that has assessed and considered agents as a unique and vital player in the industry.

Value to PSM

In principle there is no role assigned to agents in law. However in practice they are the nexus in between the arriving vessel and the fisheries administrations and therefore vital for PSM and CDS. Yet a more fundamental issue is whether some of the services provided by agents are in fact needed for PSM?  The role of agents has become so valuable partly because of the deficiencies of national fishing authorities port management structures. 

Should the national authorities be able to organise and communicate with vessel themselves? Why is it that agents are used to transmit and sometimes collect data from fishing vessels? 

If the argument for the use of agents is based on the view that working with opaque and bureaucratic governments is too complicated and time-consuming for the industry, the answer lies in improving government services, not in establishing a lucrative business sector for well-connected, but ultimately unaccountable intermediaries.

Ideal Structures to Close the Gaps Around Vessel Agents

Operationally, this gives us two options: either their formalisation or the removal of the use of vessel agents for as a reporting intermediary.


There should also be a public registry of agents, a minimum amount of information to be provided and responsibilities to be assumed under an established way to communicate with the fisheries administrations. Port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields than the App plus all the compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc) but the vessels agent would impute the data and upload the required information

No involvement

For this concept to work on a e-based system, it should be a port entry function (yet to be built) on the ER Apps for licenced vessels (foreign and domestic) to request port entry to the central fisheries authority of the port state and from then to the identified port of entry. 

As vessels using the App are licensed, hence port access (as requested by WCPFC CMM PSM) is granted, by the simple fact that they are using the tool and reporting catch.

Under the present ER App all important details from PSM are covered (i.e. VMS, local and regional licence, volumes on board, port of last call, etc.), so the vessel request is sent to the intended port of call for the vessel screening and authorization (or denial) of port use, including the need of full or targeted arrival inspections. This information could also be shared with the port authority, other line agencies and notify coastal and flag States as appropriate.

In the case of vessels not using ER (such as some longliners) and carriers, port entry should be requested via the Web Portal/IMS of the port state, with the same data fields as the previously discussed application plus all the required compliance elements (i.e. licenses, volumes on board, etc). In these cases the vessels agent would be required to input the data and upload the required information on behalf of the vessel. If the vessel is on an IUU list port entry will be denied and enforcement and other State agencies advised.

For vessels that have been approved entry, the screening of the vessels would take place incorporating all available data streams and a decision is made on the requirement for more detailed vessel inspection, or not, prior authorising port use. 

For the region

As noted earlier, very little information is captured on Vessel Agents, on the whole, across the Pacific and especially for a group that are so influential in the movement and vessels and product. In some situations, MCS staff from fisheries administrations are dependent on vessel agents for facilitating access (both literally in terms of getting to the vessel and operationally in terms of timings) to vessels for inspection, thereby removing the independence and autonomy of the administration and their regulation of the industry.

Agents across the region vary in their backgrounds and associations with the vessels, some are independent, others relate to the traders, some to vessel operators or business conglomerates on shore. Most agents are foreign nationals and not Pacific Islanders, but this is not the rule.

In some cases, agents are actually quite close and familiar to the fisheries administrators, since they interact with them on a constant basis. Yet they can be quite opaque in their accessibility, even if they have fundamental information that can be of benefit for the authorities and fisheries economists.

Currently in the Pacific these vessel agents fill a need, but it is a self-perpetuating need and more work needs to be done to formalise the role through licensing, or remove these agents from the vessel reporting requirements that are so pivotal to CDS and PSM. 

And as I said many times, this is an area I love to investigate… so feel free to contact me if it is something you keen to research and have funds available.

Disclaimer: This text is a small part of a bigger job I did with my colleague Damian Johnson

Why do we have so many transhipments in Majuro? by Francisco Blaha

I have been working on transhipments controls and Port State Measures for a while, I think this year in between all my jobs I’ll be doing over 100 boardings in total. Most of them, of course, took place here in Majuro.

There are no coincidences here, this is the place

There are no coincidences here, this is the place

Last week we had at some stage 14 carriers and 28 Purse Seiners, and in general we hit over 420 transhipments controlled a year quite consistently. But what makes Majuro such a desirable transhipment port, over other regional alternatives, such as Tarawa, Funafuti or Pohnpei?

I have been making my self this question for a while and besides trying to answer it as a fisherman, I been talking to observers, captains and company reps… and, as in anything else in fisheries, there is not a straightforward answer, but rather a series of natural and operational advantages that combine nicely.

Obviously, this is my take on this, and I will be stunned if I did not forget to consider other factors… as Oscar Wilde said “I’m not young enough to know everything.”

My long thin home 100 days a year

My long thin home 100 days a year

Good anchorage: As you can see in the map above, the Majuro lagoon is very protected but what you don't see is that it has very good anchorage grounds: good deep sand. Most operators I talked never had issues with anchor dragging on high winds (a big problem in Tarawa) and that corner of the lagoon is remarkably stable to groundswell, only wind chop sometimes. This may not come up in any economic type analysis… but is incredibly important. Honestly, you don't want to have someone continually triangulating position to see if you anchor is dragging. And this is particularly important for carriers that often have two Purse Seiners transhipping (one on port and one on starboard) and all depending on the carriers anchor.

Easy port access: to come to Majuro there is a deep well-marked channel without shifting sandbanks or exposed coral heads

Town Access: the lagoon has access to downtown via the Uliga wharf, you can be in any vessel in the lagoon in 10 -15 minutes from there. The crew can go down, and stuff can come up. Supermarkets, entertainment, phone cards, pharmacy, etc. all nearby. On top of that an easily accessible airport with flights to the US, Australia and Fiji via Nauru and soon PNG, which is good for Observers… and all with connections to Asia which is good for companies and crew.

there is two of us now.

there is two of us now.

Services access: Purse Seiners and carriers are floating little cities… imagine everything you need on your daily life, well is the same there. Vessels need shit loads of stuff. And there is an incredible amount of machinery that needs parts and maintenance: from propulsion, to electricity generators, to hydraulics, to refrigerate 900 tons of fish, to maintain the electronics, to cook, etc., etc., etc. Most things can be repaired here or can be sent to repair in Hawaii 5 hrs away.

Big wharf access for net repairs: There are two big wharves to load or unload heavy gear, and one of them has a net repair shed with a Net Master based there… A Purse Seiner net is a marvel of craft and design that weight tons…

The dimensions of these nets can reach a length of 2,000 m and 300 m in depth. The measures vary depending on the characteristics and the power of the boat yet each part of the net (aft and fore strut; aft cutter; central body, vertical panels; horizontal panels; bag mouth and bag) have their own intricacies and twines. Then you have to include the floatline, floats, leadline, bridle line, sein rings, purse line, and so on… it never stops… a net master has to have all this in his head and also understand the characteristics of the vessel and gear as to make changes and adapt each or some of the parts. The Panamanian net master here is indeed a master.

Helicopters: While the role of helicopters on board is coming to an interesting situation, as they compete now with drones and by the fact that most fish are caught on FADs with sonar buoys… they still an important element of the industry.

The tuna helicopter world is a subculture inside a subculture… the helicopter doesn't belong to the boat, but are subcontracted by the boat owners from specialised companies, that provide the helicopter, the mechanic (mostly Philippinos) and the pilots… once the niche of NZ and Australians, now is they have been replaced by much cheaper out of work former military Nicaraguan, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Panamanian, Venezuelan and Colombian pilots. Helicopters need lot of maintenance, their own fuel, and their own “set up”usually not going beyond 40 nm from the vessel they are used to spot fish schools…

Majuro has an airport that is 5 minutes flight from any PS and a local base for Hansen one of the key helicopter service providers worldwide. Meaning that if a helicopter is broken beyond onboard repair, just come to the wharf (see above) crane down the helicopter and there is another one in the airport ready to fly to your boat, and you can go no fishing.

Tatiana check the plot against her notes from analysing the vessel trip so far

Tatiana check the plot against her notes from analysing the vessel trip so far

Ubication and distance from where to the fish is: When in “normal” conditions (what ever-shifting meaning this has these days) the fish tends to be on the western side of the Pacific, so vessels have the options in PNG of Rabaul or Vidar (near Madang) but this is mostly for Philippine vessels or associated with PNG based companies (and in the case of Vidar it belongs to RD). Or the other option is Honiara (very exposed harbour when the fish is south or Pohnpei in FSM, which is a good harbour, but the access to the vessels is more complicated (bigger distances) and the available wharf is closely related to a fishing company. But the reality is that the fish is moving to the central Pacific particularly in Nauru, Kiribati, eastern PNG, and the high seas in between Kiribati’s EEZs, then the options are Funafuti (almost no services), Tarawa (quite exposed anchorage and minimal services) or Majuro with all the advantages. Also if you plot it, is quite an easy navigation to Bangkok. Now on la Niña years… then stuff changes and Kiritimati becomes the hub… even is the anchorage is not protected… but thankfully does not happen a lot.

Agents: Agent plays a key role in the pacific tuna world, and is a role I love to study in depth as I mention here (any of my powerful NGO readers: here is a hot topic no one is touching, so an opportunity to contribute and I’m available). In any case there six Agents (3 Taiwanese, 1 Chinese, 1 local and 1 Korean) that kind of got it all sorted and can arrange for most things while providing translation since the bulk of the fleet speaks some form of Chinese. They lease in between vessels owners, captains, traders ( FCF, Trimarine, Itochu), carriers, and the line agencies (see below)

Regulatory requirements and costs: While I would love more integration and efficiency among all the line agencies (Customs, Quarantine, Immigration, Environmental Protection Authority, Port authority, Maritime Police, and of course Fisheries) everyone is there to do their job and is a quite straight affair with the boarding parties, and other than request for fish (something I oppose and thankfully fisheries boarding officers don't do) I have not seen backhanders.

A big part of my job has been to align our MIMRA processes with PSM best practices and be more investigative and streamlined on the operations and controls we do, but as well provide incentives to industry to comply. Furthermore, the PSM controls we do as to approve transhipments we are on the process to share them with Thailand’s Dept of Fisheries under a MoU… but that is a topic for another blog.

Riin (Fisheries Observer from Kiribati) chats to Melvin (RMI Boarding Officer) in the trip she just did

Riin (Fisheries Observer from Kiribati) chats to Melvin (RMI Boarding Officer) in the trip she just did

Vision and leadership: last but not least, MIMRA’s management has been stable and clear on their vision of becoming a transhipment and (hopefully, shortly a landing, sorting and containerisation) hub and they have a rare virtue in the fishing administration world: foresight. Needless to say, this is partly why I like working here and I been very fortunate to have their trust and support to do my job.

The point is, there is no one reason why vessels come here in such numbers but a combination of reasons as well as a vision. I profoundly believe that even if other port was to invest massively in some aspects of the “transhipment hub equation” there are aspects that can’t be changed. And in this combination, part by nature and part by practice, Majuro is and will continue to be the main transhipment port in the Pacific.

What does the consumer really "want" when choosing eco-labelled products? by Francisco Blaha

A big part of the selling point of the ecolabels brands is that the consumer rewards the investment the companies make in paying for the certification with a price plus in their product and that their logo and story is better than the other ecolabels that compete for the same business.

What to do my fellow friends?… to Ecolabels or not to Ecolabel, that is the question…

What to do my fellow friends?… to Ecolabels or not to Ecolabel, that is the question…

In my experience the price plus hardy eventuates, but is more about positioning in a rich country market where “sustainability” is something seems keen to afford.

Here in Majuro I board everyday tuna vessels that catch the same tuna, under the same management system, in the same part of the world with the same method (and with both FAD associated and free school* sets (see below for additional comment), yet part of the cargo of one vessel has a sustainability logo because they pay for the certification, while the other vessel (doing mostly the same) don’t have it because they didn’t pay for the certification? Seems more than business than a higher motivation for the common good to me… in any case my opinions about Ecolabels are public.

In any case i was interested to read this psychology paper (A Social Norms Intervention Going Wrong: Boomerang Effects from Descriptive Norms Information) that deals with the perceptions by the consumer and how he really react to the logo of an ecolabel and the messages on it.

I paste below the discussion, but as usual read the original!

The results of this research suggest that popular social norms advertisement, like, “More than 75% of the seafood customers in this store bought MSC-labelled seafood”, might not influence supermarket shoppers’ purchasing patterns in the intended way. In fact, rather than promoting a more sustainable diet, they might do the opposite while at the same time leading to increased consumption of seafood (in this case) in general. Messages, including the social norms ones promoting seafood from sustainable origin, seems to be processed in a very shallow way in the busy and message-over-crowded supermarket setting. Shoppers primarily seem to comprehend the overall theme seafood—a product category which then indeed gets primed, increasing the likelihood that they will indeed buy some. At least in the present studies, texts and labels promoting sustainability were apparently not processed sufficiently to produce the intended effect, and instead, consumers relied on their usual choice heuristics for this product group [55].

However, substantial differences were identified between the Norwegian and the German supermarkets. In the former, but not in the latter, an information prompt about the sustainability label alone led to a significant increase in the sustainability labelled share of seafood sales. This may be due to a mixture of factors. First, this is the experimental condition where least text was added, and the text was even simpler and shorter in the Norwegian case, where there was only one label on the sign, while there were two in the German case. The text being simpler may have made it easier to grasp its meaning (i.e., “less is more”). Second, there were on average twice as many sustainability-labelled seafood products in the Norwegian than in the German supermarkets, making sustainability labels more salient in the shopping context in Norway than in Germany. This may have meant that the Norwegian shoppers may have been relatively more exposed to and therefore more familiar with the sustainability label than the German shoppers. Third, the share of sustainability-labelled seafood products sold was also twice as high at baseline in the Norwegian than in the German supermarkets, which may mean that the Norwegian shoppers had more experience with sustainability-labelled seafood and therefore could also process this information on the sign with less effort.

In the Norwegian case, adding social norms information to the sign neutralized the positive effect of labelling information on sales, leading to a significant drop in sales compared with labelling only. In the German case, adding social norms information also led to a significant drop in sales, both compared with the prompt-only condition and compared with baseline. The negative effect in Norway could be due to the increased amount of information confusing shoppers and dragging attention away from the labelling information. However, this cannot explain the findings in the German case. The significant drop in the sustainability share compared with baseline in the German supermarkets suggests that the social norms messages were demotivating shoppers and perceived as something negative about buying sustainability-labelled products. A possible reason is that German shoppers found the social norm messages pressing or manipulating, which led to psychological reactance.

These findings are in line with previous research revealing trait reactance and the importance of autonomous buying behaviour as significant predictors of situational reactance on a sample of German consumers [72]. Psychological reactance is also a possible explanation for the drop in the share of sustainability-labelled seafood when adding social norm messages to the prompt only in Norway.

Hence, it can be concluded that the main effect of messages in the supermarket context aiming to make individuals consume products with specific (sustainability) characteristics within a product category is to promote the consumption of this product category in general, without increasing the share of sustainable produce. This is similar to the finding that telling people not to eat a particular product can have the opposite of the intended effect, due to the message priming the product, as it was found in Study 2.

An important implication for the promotion of sustainable consumption options is to focus on simple messages, avoiding long, fuzzy, and complex messages [73]. For example, instead of promoting “eating less meat”, promoting “plant-based alternatives” would be more effective. Indeed, campaigns promoting the consumption of more fruit and vegetables [35,74] are probably the main reason why meat consumption has decreased in Europe in the most recent decades. However, it also shows that promoting sustainably produced products within categories that are unsustainable can be complicated. The use of labels and symbols to identify sustainable products has shown good results in the past [1]. However, the design and placement of labels and symbols need to be based on a thorough understanding of how consumers make choices in the product category [26,75]. Also, such a label or symbol needs to be promoted in a way that makes the actual logo and its core meaning easily accessible in the consumers’ minds in the moment of decision, preferably more accessible than other product characteristics. Potentially, a general “green” logo on all products following sustainable certification guidelines would be an option. If one logo standing for sustainability could be applied to all product groups, the meaning of this logo will be easy to process and its priming is likely to be effective. In this way, consumers following sustainability goals would more easily identify their preferred products with a symbol standing for sustainability being salient in their minds.

The results of these two studies suggest that the display of pictures or icons is more efficient than the display of text, especially in real-life purchase situations where written information is hardly read or processed carefully. More research is needed on how to make the sustainable logo and its core meaning more salient in consumers’ minds at the moment of decision.

From this research, it is concluded that just adding text with label information and social norms messages is not the way to go to increase the share of sustainable product alternatives. Additional text will often not be processed in the purchase decision situation or the message will be forgotten as soon as other product characteristics come into play. This also illustrates that to reach the desired effects and minimize the risk of side effects, careful evaluation is necessary before communication strategies are implemented.


Is really interesting to be doing vessels inspection inspections during the WCPFC FAD closure (July to September)… even if the concept of closures is not completely black and white. Since the closure applies to all vessels but there are complicated to understand exemptions if you are flagged in Kiribati (even if they are Korean) when fishing in the high seas adjacent to the Kiribati exclusive economic zone and Philippines’ vessels operating in HSP1, and a few more.

In any case, most of the vessels I boarded until during that time had huge trips, long time at sea and very little catch… and by the mood and comments of the masters, they are not doing any money, yet somehow they don't want to tied up the vessels and send everyone home as they do in at IATTC with the fishery closures where there is no fishing during 3 months at all. As a Croatian skipper (I loved working with croats! they run crazy, funny, clean, funny boats with good food) told me yesterday in full fisherman wisdom … “a closure is a closure, or is not closure” don’t f*ck around man!

Yet knowing that in couple of years compartmentalisation will finish and only totally FAD free trips will qualify for MSC certification, I can not stop wondering if the companies will still paying for the certification if they are not making enough money trying to catch without FADs.

So either MSC pull down its pants and extend the transition process under some excuse (surely something associated to the impact of the process on small scale fisheries) or the companies go… nah… you want us more that we need you now, so the power is on our side, drop the standards or we walk away and your earning will suffer…

So yes… interesting times ahead.

More on Social Issues in Fisheries by Francisco Blaha

Only a fisher (doesn’t matter where is he from) knows this feeling

Only a fisher (doesn’t matter where is he from) knows this feeling

While I have not signed yet, over the next year, on top of all other present obligations, FAO has contacted me to support their efforts to develop a guidance on social sustainability in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fish worker associations. The final outcome of the guidance development process will be presented to COFI-FT in 2019 and COFI in 2020.

Important to understand right from the beginning, is that as usual (as with many other aspect of fisheries) the social component in not just a matter of new legal instruments, but a better implementation of the present ones.

My colleague (and very clever man) Tim Adams from FFA reminded me that  the latest UN General Assembly Resolution on Fisheries - to be agreed in December 2017 in paragraph 172 says: …”(the UN General Assembly) Calls upon flag States to effectively implement their duty under the Convention with respect to labour conditions, taking into account applicable international instruments and national laws, and in this regard encourages States that have not yet done so to consider becoming parties to the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and to implement the Guidelines for port State control officers carrying out inspections under the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) and the Guidelines on flag State inspection of working and living conditions on board fishing vessels”… This paragraph is actually copied from last year's UNGA fisheries resolution paragraph 169 – i.e. this is the existing view of the UN General Assembly. (See my last post for the details on these instruments)

So how come these issues are still a problem?

Well in that aspect, it seems to be not really different to the problems in fisheries (call them IUU, management, international collaboration, etc). Where international commitments are made, but do not eventuate into reality. For a myriad of factors, ranging from geopolitics to pure greed via transparency and subsidies, just to name a couple of them…

But on the labour side there is also a bit of further complexity from the human perspective… we fishers are a unique bunch of people and only a limited body of research has been done in order to understand our “anthropology” and decision making process…

And while I never would even dream to generalise on “one size fits all” casting of the “model” fisher, I remember nodding my head positively many times while reading many years ago  Social Issues in Fisheries - FAO FTP 375 from 1998 and while things have changed a lot since them (hence the book is ready for refresh!) some parts always stayed close to me, like the ones below:

10.3 Attitudes towards institutions and authorities
Peoples attitudes to authority will also play a major role in shaping their responses to efforts to manage their fishing activity. Fishers the world over are renowned for being independent and suspicious of authority. This is as true in modern, industrialised fisheries as in artisanal fisheries in less developed countries.

In order to gauge what responses to different types of fisheries intervention might be, managers need to look at the history of management and assess how stakeholder communities have reacted to these interventions and also assess current opinions and attitudes towards authorities concerned with fisheries.

These attitudes towards the institutions responsible for fisheries can have a major influence on the extent to which future fisheries interventions will be observed. If a particular institution is commonly perceived by fishers as being either untrustworthy or dominated by particular sets of interests which are not necessarily sympathetic to the needs of fishers, co-operation is likely to be reduced. On occasions, the same set of fisheries interventions might succeed or fail simply depending on who it is that is seen to be enforcing them.

10.4 Levels of education
The long-term ability of fishers to adapt to changes in the fishery as a result of development or management will also depend on the skills and education which they command. In many parts of the developing world, fishing communities are consistently among the people with the lowest levels of education. What is more, their skills are extremely specific to the fishing profession. This can make movement out of fishing very difficult.

From assessment of educational levels and skills within stakeholder communities affected by changes in fisheries, managers and decision-makers can determine what forms of education or training might be required as part of development packages.

I heard once that “organising fisher is like herding cats” yet on the other side when is see the countries that have ratified ILO Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) my believe is that the common factor for some of them is a strong labour union and syndicates.

From my personal experience in Argentina (which was the 1st country to sign it in 2011!) we always had the Sindicato de Obreros Marítimos Unidos (SOMU) and Sindicato Marítimo de Pescadores (SiMaPe), both work close to each other and have a tradition of being very hard core and combative while quite dodgy on their directive ranks (corruption, embezzlement, etc.) Yet reality is that I would have not being able to start and to finish my university studies without the concessions they had for students (even if most them where for high school)e and the established contracts they had (while keeping a % of my income).

I did not expected to have anything like that while fishing in the Pacific Islands, but it did totally surprised me when I came to NZ. I just started working… no standard contract, no membership, etc. There would be 3 or 4 of us in vessel that in Argentina would have at least a crew of 6 or 7, of course the 4 of us made more money that if we were 7, yet something important was lost in my opinion. I could not have done my 2nd MSc at Auckland Uni, if I had to survive by fishing only for example

In fact even if at the time I was working a lot land bases for NZ biggest fishing company, they didn't accepted my proposal to work part time so I could do my thesis on a topic of their interest, that was part of the reason I took on consulting. Anyway point is that once you loose (or your never had) some rights and good contract conditions (even if at the cost of financial gains or “efficiency”) there are gone for good.

Yet this “union” protection model work when the flag, port and coastal state are the same and the nationality of the crew relates to them.

Reality today in many fisheries is totally different; for example half the US Purse seine fleet is Taiwanese owned and there is only a token American captain on board… that is it. Everyone else is from either the beneficial ownership country (TW) of one of the crewing countries (Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, etc.)

Yet at least there is a link to America via the captain, but while the vessel is an extension of the US floating in the pacific, their labour rules don’t apply, no one on board will have a US working permit, if you try to enter US territory without a visa you get deported, yet on a FV rules don't apply.  

Of course it gets worst, most Vanuatu flag fishing vessel have absolutely no linkage to Vanuatu or they labour or migration system, and so on… I just have chose those two yet it could be dozens more countries.

The crew recruitment process typically occurs through recruitment agencies or brokers that may range from legally-regulated job placement agencies to very informal arrangements (sometimes associated with people- smuggling and trafficking). Sometimes brokers charge a fee to be paid against future earnings, which could become a basis for debt bondage.

Crew may also be transferred from one broker to another, or sometimes brokers source fishers for recruitment agencies or fishing vessels directly. Many fishers may come from non-fishing countries (Nepal, Laos) and not aware that they will be working on fishing vessels and what are the conditions until they find themselves in the harbour.

The process can start with:
1- the fishers signing the agreement with home state agents  
2- then then proceed across a border to other agents- who take the fishers to a vessel in country X
4- which is owned in country Y - while being flagged in country Z

So which rules apply? In principle Flag state… but if they don't play game…. How do you push the agenda? 

Of course from the port state (as in fisheries) can have a role… but why should RMI for example  a developing country who has one good port, take on controlling Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean and other much richer countries vessels… furthermore even if they where to do that, nothing stops those vessels top go to another port or a different 300 mile south, where no one ask questions? Is big ask to for small countries without even their won labour systems to take on that role.

But also there is also scope for nations to act on their own as coastal States, New Zealand, for example, applies its social and labour laws to all fishers operating within its Exclusive Economic Zone. (We had Korean flagged vessels fishing under joint ventures in NZ waters, their ill treatment and forced labour conditions of their Indonesian crews made the media, yet was little that could legally be done at the time. This brought into law the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, requiring labour conditions similar to those expected for NZ nationals were imposed. As a result, many vessels didn't come back)

So as you see is VERY complex and there are no easy answers.

Furthermore, and from own experience when you have nothing... anything is a lot, you’ll eat shit if you have to. I had only 70 USD to start a new live when I came to NZ in 1994, I would have accepted anything that gave some hope… and is only by good luck that I got an opportunity given by quite decent people.

And here is perhaps a key element to big part of this, poverty and desperation… Adam Smith in 1776 nothed in “An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”  that  “...(fishers) are all very poor people who follow as a trade what other people pursue as a pastime.” 

Of course today is not the same when we talk about commercial fisheries (while to a point not much has changed for subsistence and small scale ones), but looks like the system is always rigged to predate on the desperate.


The complexities around decent work conditions and safety at sea on fishing boats by Francisco Blaha

the undervalued key people of our industry

the undervalued key people of our industry

Further from my last post where I talked about my own experience working at sea, partly motivated by the fact that I may be involved in the Vigo Dialogue process and a personal interest (sparked by some outrageous events like this one) as to gain a more profound understanding of the labour and safety realities in fisheries.

Coming from pure commercial fisheries and then compliance background this a broadening step in my career even if it overlaps (to a point) issues of IUU fishing. This “extra step” wasn't one I was sure to take, yet, as usual, a conversation with my kids has been illuminating… “Papa, you always say that you don't work with fish, your work with the people that work with fish… so this is it”… and they are right, I always say that and I need to live up to my word.

So, I’m here just telling my take on VERY complex issue, so if you spot a conceptual mistake, please let me know! As Oscar Wilde said: “I’m not young enough to know everything”

An important element to understand is that there are various legal frameworks on crewing that are mixed on board, partly because they are hard to separate, but yet they are very different. One is around forced labour, slavery, abuses, non-payments, etc. and the other is the safety component. Because as I said many times, fishing is the most dangerous job in the world, by far.

Despite more awareness and improved safety practices, more people are fishing now than ever before, and this worldwide increase (in many cases involving people not from fishing nations – i.e. many Nepalese work in fishing vessels) has contributed to a rise in the number of fishers' deaths. Exact figures are hard to come by since reporting is not always consistent.

Preliminary, conservative estimates of fatalities in fishing are now over 32 000 people annually.  The number of fishers injured or suffering from work-related illnesses is much higher. The fatalities and accidents have major impacts on fishers' families, fishing crews and fishing communities.

Yet how does being safe from accidents, links to getting paid on time or not being in forced labour? Well… there is not an easy answer unfortunately.

As in fisheries, there are plenty of international agreements and voluntary standards that vary in their scope and adoption). Let's start with the ones at the global level: 

The ILO International Labour Organization and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have established a number of binding legal instruments to improve fishers’ safety and working conditions; the IMO’s Torremolinos Protocol and the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F) which entered into force in March 2013, as well as non-binding recommendations and codes, some of which were developed jointly between the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IMO.

The ILO has started this process through the adoption of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188). This seeks to ensure decent standards for all fishers regarding conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, as well as medical care and social security. The Convention came into force in November las year when the 10th country ratified it. The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in Fishing Recommendation (No. 199)  as well as two sets of Guidelines for flag States and port States carrying out inspections under the Convention.

Yet the slow pace of ratification of conventions inhibits effective control of safety and labour standards in the fisheries sector, and undermines important opportunities to prevent and detect instances of abuse on board.

 And then there is the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA),adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), outlines fishing vessel standards and includes other regulations designed to protect the safety of crews and observers and provide a level playing field for industry. 

The CTA updates, amends, and replaces the Torremolinos Protocol of 1993, relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977. Neither the Torremolinos convention nor the protocol will enter into force themselves, but the CTA reflects provisions contains on those.

Once in force, the CTA will set minimum requirements on the design, construction, equipment, and inspection of fishing vessels 24 meters or longer that operate on the high seas. Its entry into force would empower port States to carry out safety inspections that could be aligned with fisheries and labor agencies, to ensure transparency of fishing and crew activities. The treaty consists of minimum safety measures for fishing vessels that mirror the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)—an internationally binding treaty on safety for merchant vessels that entered into force in 1980. It also calls for the harmonised fisheries, labor, and safety inspections.

The CTA will enter into force 12 months after at least 22 states with an aggregate 3,600 (China alone gets to this number!!) fishing vessels of at least 24 meters in length operating on the high seas have expressed their consent to be bound by it. To date, 10 countries have ratified the agreement, so we still have a way to go.

Until the CTA enters into force, there are no mandatory global safety regulations for fishing vessels.


My friends at PEW published recently an excellent explanation on the CTA and its linkages to the IUU side (which is another different topic!). A lot of emphases is being given into linking this safety at sea instruments with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which is an area I work a lot, since vessels at some stage need to come to port, and there they can be inspected. 

Still, you can be in a very safe boat and being in forced labour while fishing illegally, or fishing illegally, while being paid well, in a safe or unsafe boat… or all the combinations you want around this.

Yet in general, terms, when you are dodgy… you pretty much dodgy all across the board.

International investigations have shown that some migrant workers seeking employment overseas have been tricked with false promises of jobs on land, but end up toiling in quite terrible working conditions on board unsafe fishing vessels and most probably involved in IUU activities in the high seas

And while not a rule, we all increasingly recognise that in most IUU listed fishing vessels bad working conditions, forced labour, poor safety standards are pretty much the standard. 

Operators who under-report catch or fish illegally are less likely to provide their crews with adequate labour conditions, training, or safety equipment, and more likely to fish in hazardous weather. To minimise upfront costs, their vessels might have  inadequate equipment or inappropriate modifications and might operate for extended periods without undergoing inspections or safety certifications. 

So the ILO, the IMO and FAO promote the synchronised implementation of these three instruments The PSMA’s aim is to ensure that catch to unload is legal, the C188’s to make sure that the working conditions for crews are good, and they can leave if unhappy and the CTA to make sure the vessel is safe to working out there. 

The safety side of a vessel may not be seen as an issue related to working conditions, but believe me is a key issue… you need to be alive to be paid.

To ensure that vessels are safe, their design, construction, and equipment must be inspected and surveyed. This may be carried out by a flag State agency, or by a delegated authority such as a surveyor or classification society. The CTA states that a vessel’s lifesaving appliances, radio installations, structure, machinery, and equipment must be inspected before it is put into service and at intervals not exceeding five years. Details of the surveys will be made available in an International Fishing Vessel Safety Certificate. If a vessel has been exempted, its operator must complete an exemption certificate and make it available on board for examination at all times. 

The Agreement has a “no more favourable treatment” clause (Article 4[7]). This means that all vessels entering a port of a State that is a party to the Agreement would be subject to the same inspection standards—even if their flag State hasn’t ratified or acceded to it. This allows States to control all vessels entering their ports, raising global safety standards. 

But this latest is obviously part of the problem, you as a country need to got it sorted before you start looking into others, and not many have, or more importantly… not many want to. 

Yet at the end of the day, it comes ideally to flag state living up to the expected standards, after all, under international law a vessel is a territorial extension of the state that flagged it and all rules should apply on board, from safety or the vessels to labour conditions (and fishing legally). And that does not happen… so we need to find alternatives

Either from the port state (as in fisheries), but also there is also scope for nations to act on their own as coastal States, New Zealand, for example, applies its social and labour laws to all fishers operating within its Exclusive Economic Zone. (We had Korean flagged vessels fishing under joint ventures in NZ waters, their ill treatment and forced labour conditions of their Indonesian crews made the media, yet was little that could legally be done at the time. This brought into law the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, requiring labour conditions similar to those expected for NZ nationals were imposed. As a result, many vessels didn't come back)

My approach to this would be to thinking that work it from two parallel angles: a) On one side regulatory frameworks, international agreements under flag, coastal, and port state jurisdiction, and b) on the other private sector/ due diligence, since at the end of the day Consumers in key rich market states are would not be keen to buy if there are doubts on the human cost of their fish. So the importers have the chance to influence the international supply chains on raising vessel safety standards and labour conditions (and hopefully support that with price difference) 

Yet as I said before, and I say it again my guiding principle is that "we need to shift the basis of the discourse and screening from attempting to prove or to disprove forced labour conditions in supply chains toward establishing system fundamentals for human rights due diligence"

Labour conditions in fishing vessels by Francisco Blaha

The issues of fishers welfare, decent work conditions and forced labour have been at the forefront of the news these days, and for various good reasons. So much so, that FAO is getting involved through the Vigo dialogue (a process I may be involved with), and surely RFMOs will start extending their view over it. As in other complex areas in fisheries, there are already legal frameworks that cover the issues at hand, yet they are incomplete, or just not adhered to.

Ocean Breeze, Purse Seiner, South Pacific, 2001. I’m with a Peruvian, Madeira and Philippinos on board

Ocean Breeze, Purse Seiner, South Pacific, 2001. I’m with a Peruvian, Madeira and Philippinos on board

Over the next few posts, I’m going to dive into the labour conditions issue, as well as the present agreements. As I may get involved more in-depth into the topic, I thought I write about my personal take on this based on my experience. This way I may look back on this post in the future and see if my views changed through the experience of working on this complex yet necessary area.

In my experience, where you stand and what you are used to, makes a big difference in this area. So where is the line that separates what is acceptable from what is not? I cringe a bit at the “developed country saviour” stereotype that I perceive in some initiatives in this area.

Here is an example: Recently I listen to an expose on conditions on board a Taiwanese vessel and people were working 18 hrs (I get back to this later), but also how there where cockroaches in the galley, in principle that should not happen, yet it does constantly… I remember spending time Bulgarian and Russian trawlers during the 80’s (South Atlantic), using mosquito nets in the bunk as to avoid them crawling on your body, and squashing them when you sleep (not a nice feeling when you wake up believe me), and finding them in your clothes, books and cooked in your food and bread made on board. Yes, surely wasn’t nice, but you get used to it, and I still here.

Yet, as the other side of the coin and in a huge contrast, they were the only vessels I been in my life, where 2 or 3 times a week, after dinner a string sextet (a cello, 2 violas and 3 violins) made of crew members (guys from the deck and engineers) will play traditional folk songs and light classics directed by the 2nd mate, with some excellent operatic singing… other nights we played chess or read classics from the captains’ library, he had little cards and would recommend books based on your past choices. The disparity in between the filth we lived in (I never been in any Asian boat as bad in terms of filth at those ones) and what I always perceived as a high civilised culture, was unique… I never forgot that paradox.

Yes, there are conditions, (particular regarding space and general hygiene) that I find difficult to deal with Asian vessels, but I find this also in Asian cities. But then, I’m a 196cm (6’5’) ex-rower and swimmer, that grow up in places with a lot of space… I would not try to impose my view of what is “right”, even if it feels “wrong” to me

Anyway, is also really important to understand that fishing is not like any other job in any other area I’m aware of (yet my experience is only in fisheries, farming, academia and UN bodies) for various reasons (I explain some below), therefore there is no way that "one size fits all" will ever work.

Furthermore, there are massive differences between countries and sometimes between fisheries in the same country.

The first element of everyday reality that you notice disappears when you work on fishing boats (unless you are an officer doing logsheets) is dates and times. They don't really make a lot of sense anymore after a week at sea... if it Tuesday 6.15 am or Sunday 3 pm doesn't really make a difference, so your really forget about that... In Argentina (by some reason) is a tradition to eat pizza on Saturdays... so we will know that a week has gone because there was pizza for dinner.

There are many fisheries where your income is based on a fix "fee" and catch shares that vary by your position. In many boats actually, the captain and chief engineer earn only based on catch shares and not salaries.

Critically, ‘when the fish is there, the fish is there" and that is the only time to catch it. For example: I'm able to think of many occasions where if the captain would have tried to apply ILO’s C188: Work in Fishing Convention; “10 hours of rest per day may be reduced to no less than six consecutive hours during active fish catching and fish processing" I would have been pissed off because that meant less money in my pocket at the end of the trip...

"however the fisher shall receive compensatory periods of rest as soon as practicable." Well, that kind of happens anyway... you spend time looking for fish, and in that time crew work on vessel and gear maintenance, but is not "fishing" also you have shift work on deck, bridge or engine room so the 10 or 6 hr may not be consecutive.

You'll know if someone has been a fisherman by his/her ability to fell asleep at any time or any position under any weather even if it is only for 15' minutes. When I get on a flight in the Pacific with fishing crew... we are the only ones sleeping in 5 minutes of sitting in the plane. Sleeping short but repetitively is just part of what you do.

Fleet wise, that variability of practices is massive, and I merely talk about my experience:

Purse Seiners would set pre-sunrise for FAD sets, but then any time of day for free school sets. Hence the nights usually are resting time (unless you had a big problem on the net, and then is all hands on deck overnight for repairs)

Trawlers will depend on what are they targeting and if they are using bottom or midwater gear... at which latitude you are, etc. I have done 18 hrs days during the summer in the southern seas, and that was given. If you are in a factory vessel, then your work in 6x6hr shifts or 8x6hr... but you get less than 6 hrs sleep literally, because you will like to have some food and a shower, so that will already be out

Longliners tend to set pre-sunrise and sunset, but then sometimes during the day... and depending the number of sets the boat has out you will be hauling the times you are not setting... pretty much 24 hrs... so the ILO rule will not really work... but then you have plenty of time to sleep when you are getting to or off the fishing grounds.

Also as a skipper, at the end of the day not your interest to have an exhausted crew, when people are there is when they make mistakes and get hurt, an injured guy on board is a real problem you need to get back to port, and if crew is with low moral, efficiency goes down, and accidents tends to happen. And even if you were to be the worst possible human being, tired people break stuff as well as getting hurt, broken gear means less fishing, and no one wants that on board.

In principle, a key aspect of the master’s responsibility (that was drill into me both at navy and fishing school) is to look after the safety and welfare of crew and make money for everyone involved. If the crew is exhausted, shit happens, and no one wins, if I see someone on deck not being really into it, I sent him to the bunk... not only because he will get hurt, but mostly because the other crew will get hurt too, and as I said, stuff will break.

How can you control this issues on board?
Well... you could have logs (like truck drivers) and add that to the already huge paper-work already on board. The logical way would be via EM (cameras on board) and have then a labour inspector sitting with the observer scanning the footage (but then that will imply quite a lot of labour inspectors being trained in fishing, and that ain’t gonna happen, labour departments struggle to get enough people as ist is already).

But my biggest issue is that, while I’m all for crew rights due to the well-known cases of slavery and abuses, trying to be too authoritative on hours and days worked, and the having labour inspectors checking is the wrong approach since you are barking at the wrong tree.

Most of the slavery and crew rights abuses seem to take place in vessel flagged in countries that don’t really give a shit about any rules, much less those that will apply to the 10 countries that have signed the ILO convention... and even if they were to sign it, what credibility will they have in controlling it?. I don't think anyone in Taiwan, Vanuatu or China has any idea of where all their vessels are and who is on board... much less how the crew get treated.

So we have to be aware that the weight-of compliance, (as usual) will fall on the countries that are already pretty responsible operators... and that are barely competing with the other countries that don't give a shit.

And while potentially the consumer could reward the responsible states with their choice (the ecolabels semi myth), reality is that the people who care, are the well-intended and conscious middle-class buyers of developed countries… which are not the primary market of most fishery products

Fishing is about flexibility... and if you have to stop fishing because the crew would only be able to sleep 5 hr instead of 6, because otherwise, you'll have to spend time explaining why you took that decision to some bureaucrat that does not know the difference in between stern and bow even less the works of a Purse Seiner, then you're pushing them to hide things... and no one really wins when that happens.

The people that the rules are trying to protect are still being abused and the responsible operators’ countries are getting constrained by rules that do not reflect reality sometimes.

There is limited evidence of abuses in well-regulated fisheries, and the reasons are because there is a system to control them... in the WCPFC area the biggest issue is unreported (specifically underreporting), illegal fishing or unregulated are non-issues.

From my present experience, my feeling is that in the WCPFC PS tuna fishery the key issues would be about fair payment, but not slavery and being kept on board against their will.

For the LongLiners the process gets a bit murkier because we have a lot of vessels that fish in the High seas and do not come to port or have coastal state licenses... so you must trust the flag-state conditions. But then while China and Korea are ILO members, they are not 188 signatories - and mostly employ other countries crew (Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, etc). Taiwan is not even member of ILO, nor is Vanuatu that has hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese owned vessels under its legislation!

Japan tho, is interesting since because of its labour unions, does employ a lot of Japanese crew, at Japanese salaries, and still (allegedly) makes money.

What I would do?
As in any other fisheries compliance are, explore incentives for people to do the right thing, instead of only having a system to punish them when found doing the wrong thing. But that will take time (but i’m working on it)

In the meantime, as an ex-fisher I can think about 4 initial ideas:

  1. Actually trust fisherman to know what is better for them and create the avenues for them to be able to log complains if they feel they have been abused, not paid, or made work in conditions beyond reasonable.

  2. Provide independent avenues for crew to have the opportunity to complain and take action via arrangement with flag, coastal or port states... one idea... have 3 randomly selected crew members to come with their passports to the ILO rep office/labour dept/fishers union or similar at the key ports in the Pacific (60% of the skipjack in the world comes from there)

  3. Pull the pressure on the crewing agencies and crewing related legislation in the countries of origins of the crew - not just flag states.

  4. Since a lot of the reported abuses seems to happen in the HS Long Line fishery, we need to increase the pressure to stop at sea transhipments (as we did with PS), hence they have the chance to disembark if needed.

I’m sure many will disagree with my take or find my take a bit strange, but then, that is what happens when you talk about your views… and I (even as a consultant) never take any paternalistic (listen to me, I know better!) attitude towards anything in regards fisheries.0, this is just what I know, think and see.

Any solutions in the labour arena will have to come from a consensus view of all the elements that pay into the topic, and not only from a well-intended side of it. I'm just getting into this topic, and I'm entirely open to change my views be understanding more and be proven in a different light.

So far the best take in this topic I have seen comes from this paper I blogged about recently:

We need to shift the basis of screening from attempting to prove or to disprove forced labour conditions in supply chains toward establishing system fundamentals for human rights due diligence.

Images from past days, and yes it was a different time, unions existed, and I was able to use my earnings to study, and not just to survive or maintain a family.

On being at WCPFC TCC and the decision making process at RFMOs by Francisco Blaha

The WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) is over, a massive "shout out" of nothing more than pure respect to EVERYONE in MIMRA that worked non-stop to make TCC be the success it was.

Sometimes a sensory depravation chamber, sometimes the front line of geopolitics.

Sometimes a sensory depravation chamber, sometimes the front line of geopolitics.

I have to admit that being part of it was a confronting experience sometimes, yet somehow illuminating… I never been to one before, but I totally understand how people get hooked on them and become RFMO “junkies”. Yet I don't think that there is something I could do.

I’m a total believer of being totally aware of your limitations and know where your strengths are, and meeting rooms is definitively an area where I don't really contribute, particularly when it comes to language discussion and endless correction to a text. Yet I totally understand why it has to be done, as words becomes the “lawyers” job in the delegations fighting ground, when shit hits the fan.

The level of geopolitics, influencing, positioning, country egoisms, plain misplaced righteousness, coalitions, back room deals and in many cases full hypocrisy (as in the case of CN,TW, KR and TW in regards transhipments at sea) could be a sociologist/international relationships specialist wet dream.

The dynamics of decision making among countries as despair as China and Tokelau are unique to RFOMS and the presence of member institutions such as FFA, SPC and PNA are unique to the WCPFC in particular, so during my time there I wonder how the situation would be in other RFMOs in regards decision making and if what I see there is the best we can do? 

But no more, academia came to the rescue and a recent paper by Antonia Leroy and Michel Morin “Innovation in the decision-making process of the RFMOs”.

Is an interesting read, and I recommend you go to the original. In the meantime, I quote the abstract and some parts that I stuck to my little brain. 

Throughout the last several decades, the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) have become essential bodies for the management of the fisheries resources. However, the state of fish stocks that are fished in the high seas seem even more critical for some species. That situation put into question the functioning of the RFMOs where decisions adopted have not been stringent enough to tackle the overexploitation of many fish stocks.

When states are establishing RFMOs’ conventions they have to fulfil their duty to co-operate while applying the principle of consent, a basic principle in international law. This has led states to setting up various decision-making processes within RFMOs. The paper shows that a better tailored decision-making process for RFMOs is needed so as to bring changes in them to comply with the objectives set out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, i.e. maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. 

With that aim, the analysis defines three principles to evaluate the effectiveness of the decision-making procedure in RFMOs; 1) blocking or opting-out behaviours constrained, 2) transparency in the objection procedure, 3) conservation and management measures, including the related dispute resolution process, adopted in a timely manner. In line with these three principles, after considering the example of 12 main RFMOs, the study concludes that among them, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) has developed the most advanced and innovative decision-making mechanism.

Despite the duty for states to cooperate in the management of fisheries resources, they remain cautious about the establishment of transparent and timely efficient decision-making mechanisms, certainly as a fear of renouncing some of their prerogatives. RFMOs decision-making procedures have evolved. In the last few decades, several RFMOs have evaluated and modified their Convention provisions such as the NAFO, the NEAFC, the IATTC and the GFCM.

However, there is a lack of a true evolution on the objection and dispute settlement procedures. Recent adopted or amended conventions remain far below the recognised best practice (see Fig. 1 below for a summary of RFMOs’ performance in terms of decision-making process). For instance, with one of the last organizations created, the SIOFA, while the convention text is rather innovative in including the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach to fisheries, the lack of which is seen as a weakness in performance assessments of other RFMOs, the decision-making procedure does not correspond to best practice; in this case, each decision must be made by consensus without the possibility to object to a CMM. 

The ICCAT convention has been under revision since 2013 and a new one should be adopted soon; debates on the objection procedure and its follow-up are one of the issues that remain to be solved. Up to now, only the NAFO and the SPRFMO conventions have set out provisions which oblige the members of the RFMO concerned to take into account the positions of the others when one of them decides to present an objection and might be considered as implementing best practice. 

These two examples show that it is possible to bring progress in core provisions of these conventions without ignoring the principle of consent. But these are the only two examples, that is not enough. States, which are members of the other RFMOs, should really push for the adoption of conventions giving a better framework for the adoption of strong CMMs in order to tackle the issue of the poor state of many fish stocks.

The international community is far from having defined the appropriate procedural rules in order to adopt the necessary measures for the optimal management of fishery resources. The possibility of not accepting a measure or of objecting to it is still too frequent. 

For this reason, the procedure developed by the SPRFMO is promising in that it obliges the parties to resolve the dispute quickly and within the organization itself. This way of resolving the conflict is certainly preferable to treating it outside of the organization as shown by the CCSBT case in 1999–2000. This is so far one of the newest and the most innovative decision-making mechanisms.

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