The 2018 International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) / by Francisco Blaha

There is a lot of talk about observers at the moment, people making interviews, discussion in the media, etc. And this is a good thing! Observers are the key player in the fisheries world, yet one that faces a lot of challenges, some (like safety) are known and push trough media others are less discussed (like work progression – what career development options are there for an observer, or issues about contracting, unions, insurances, among other hundred topics.)

 Guys on the job 

Guys on the job 

Yet by its nature observers don't get the set up that scientist or even less fisheries bureaucrats in terms forums and congresses to get together and exchange experiences and information… in fact I only know one: The International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) that this year will take place in Vigo, Spain.

Since 1998, this conference series has been the only one of its kind to specifically address the many issues surrounding fisheries monitoring programs. This conference is the premier international forum for working on the critical issues of fisheries observer programs, emerging monitoring technologies, and other approaches to fishery-dependent data collection and analyses.

Its vision is to improve fishery monitoring programs worldwide through sharing of practices and development of new methods of data collection and analysis, and to provide a forum for dialog between those responsible for monitoring fisheries and those who rely upon the data they collect.

To be considered successful, the 2018 IFOMC will:

  • Improve the quality of fishery monitoring data through sharing of best practices for collection and analysis of information.
  • Improve the use of fishery monitoring data to support sustainable resource management.
  • Improve accessibility to fishery monitoring data.
  • Support the development of new innovative data collection methods.
  • Support the development of international safety standards for at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Improve the training and safety of at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Support the development of fisheries observer professionalism practices on an international basis.

The conference call for presentations and posters from everyone that has something to say under the following theme sessions for this year:

1. Why monitor fisheries and what to monitor
2. Industry engagement with monitoring
3. Monitoring artisanal fisheries
4. New approaches to analysing monitoring data

5. Assessing bias from monitoring programs
6. Harmonizing and standardizing monitoring programs

7. Briefing and debriefing observers
8. Observer training, safety and mental health

9. Technology used by observers
10. Operationalizing technology-based monitoring: learning from programs around the world

11. The future of monitoring programs

I only work laterally with observers (and I’m not part of any organization) so I have never presented anything there, but no doubt is the top forums for those that work on observer and eM issues !

I had long and interesting discussions about the compliance elements in the role of an observer (dong read enforcement! I’m saying compliance), and I always take the opportunity to have chat with the observers when I do boarding… they know more about that vessels that any other “official” in the world, and definitively more than most officers in the flag state of those vessels.

Observers, in my opinion, deserve a more way more prominent role at any of the fisheries decision making bodies we have, and I would love to see Pacific Islands Fisheries Observers meeting / conference.

I get sometime a lot of negative comments about the observers performance and conduct, yet is important to understand that as any other group of people in the world have inherent variability in their work, attitude and ethics… from the young observer that presented to us in the Marshalls the four 100 dollars bills (a week of wages for him) given to him by a skipper to keep quiet on a FAD set, to the guy that was so drunk on board that he could not even stand, even less do the job he was getting paid to do, while breaking the rule of no drinking alcohol while on board.

And the same goes for officials, consultants, captains, crew, etc… and that variability is just part of the reality we need to deal with, pretending we are all ideal or all evil will never work…. And talking about it is the way to go

In any case this post was about IFOMC, and I wish them the biggest success, and looking forward to read about the outcomes