As RFMOs waive observer requirements, NGOs caution against permanence

As fisheries councils in the U.S. and abroad begin relaxing observer requirements in order to meet safety needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple NGOs have issued a joint statement cautioning against those relaxed requirements becoming permanent.

The letter comes as the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it is suspending West Coast observer coverage, in response to a recommendation made by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council suggested in a letter to the NMFS that the waiver could “match the duration of ‘shelter-at-home’ or similar orders by the governors of Washington, Oregon, and/or California.”

“In balancing the trade-offs associated with the short-term loss of the benefits that observer coverage provides, we ask that you consider a number of ways in which coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 along with mitigating factors within the fisher management system,” the PFMC wrote. “With respect to coastal communities, decisions should not be based on impressions that the risk there is low because the virus is not currently prevalent in those communities.”

The move follows the waiver of requirements in other regions of the U.S., such as the Northeast, and across the globe, such as a suspension of observer requirements by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.

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