How do you manage when you are a young mother and your job requires you to spend several weeks in a row at sea, on fishing boats, in order to collect crucial data for the conservation of the fishery resources of your country?
This is the story of Rachael, who comes from Papua New Guinea (PNG). She is an at-sea fisheries observer: her role is to collect scientific data related to fisheries on-board a commercial fishing vessel. Her job is tough and complex, she observes and records data on target tuna catch, identifies the species of bycatch, records interactions with protected species and their fate and condition at release, collects biological samples, recovers tagged fish, quantifies fishing effort and identifies advances in fishing technology.
At-sea observers are the “at sea eyes and ears” of fisheries scientists and fisheries managers. The information collected by observers is used by scientists to assess the state of fish stocks, for both tuna and other bycatch species such as sharks, and to evaluate the impact of fishing on protected species such as turtles and whales. Fisheries managers use the information to assess the success of fisheries management initiatives, such as limits and closures and vessels’ compliance with their regulations.
When Rachael is at home, there is no time to rest: this mother of two has to make up for the time she spends on boats, far away, in the Pacific Ocean, and catch up with her family. She knows that her work is important, and remains determined to do it diligently, despite the difficulties: most of her female colleagues have given up on going to sea, and Rachael is the only at-sea female observer in PNG. This country is one of the largest and most productive commercial tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
Rachael has benefited from the technical training delivered by the Pacific Community (SPC)’s FAME Division and is now the region’s most qualified female observer. In addition to being an observer, she is also an observer debriefer and debriefer assessor under the regionally recognised Pacific Island Regional Fisheries Observer (PIRFO) suite of qualifications (www.pirfo.spc.int).
It is during a training course she attended at SPC’s headquarters in Noumea (New Caledonia) that we met her. Here is her story.
The Pacific Community’s (SPC) Fisheries Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division implements regional observer training standards, implements data collection protocols, supports national observer programme capacity and facilitates regional coordination of 17 national observer programmes of the participating Pacific Islands and Territories. The funding for FAME’s support is through the ‘Observer Regional Cost Recovery’, a levy applied to large commercial fishing vessels by the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) since 2017.
Thanks to a memorandum of understanding between FFA and SPC, the FAME Division is delivering the services below :
- Observer training quality assurance and certification
- Debriefer training, quality assurance and certification
- Regional coordination
- National infrastructure support
For more information, see the PIRFO website.