On invitation from the Long Distance Advisory Council Working Group 5, HRAS International presented the report ‘The Necessity of Protecting Fisheries Observers at Sea’ in Brussels March 6, 2024.

"Fisheries observers are the guardians of the ocean."

The LDAC intervention provided an overview of the collated findings from a collaborative investigation alongside multiple supporting organisations that comprised the October 2023 report.

It highlighted continuing global issues being faced by some observers but stressed that while such poor and sometime criminal behaviours remained in-sector, this was not a case of persistent wide-scale abuse.

In the report's finding, the 10 issues of concern raised on behalf of affected observers, were:

  1. Physical and sexual assault of observers and other forms of harassment.
  2. Retaliatory lawsuits against observers.
  3. Threats to dependents and livelihoods.
  4. Lack of transparency around observer deaths and disappearances.
  5. Lack of consequences for threats to observers.
  6. Lack of independent means of communication.
  7. Lack of recognition as a maritime professional.
  8. Lack of public access to observer data, including observer harassment data
  9. Lack of agency response to the needs of grieving dependents of deceased observers.
  10. Impact on fisheries observers’ safety, health and welfare.

European Commission DG MARE Engagement

The October 2023 report was referenced alongside The Guardian’s reporting in recent December 2023 LDAC correspondence to the Director General, Charlina Vitcheva, DG MARE requesting clarification around the EU Commission position on protections of observers. 

On 5 March 2024, LDAC received a direct response in which DG MARE made several important and express statements. 

She highlighted: “I can reassure the LDAC that DG MARE services have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any instances of obstruction or intimidation.

She further commented: “Protocols for the observer to safely and directly contract the flag State authorities and report safety concerns are now mandatory..

Importantly, the DG spelt out that: “…the definition of serious infringements relating to instances of obstruction or intimidation of the observers has been revised to make it clear that the definition applies not only during, but also prior and after the relevant observed fishing trip.”

Death at Sea Trailer

Working Group attendees were shown the recently issued Death at Sea Film trailer highlighting the case of Kiribati observer, Eritara Aati Kiaerua, who died in March 2020 while working onboard a commercial fishing vessel. Four years on, his family are still searching for answers. 


Supporting Organisations

The report was supported by the Association for Professional Observers (APO), the Portuguese Association of Marine Environmental Observers (APOAM), Blue Marine Foundation, the Sustainable Fisheries and Communities Trust (SFACT), CHIRP Maritime and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF). 

Note: All previous fisheries justice work undertaken by the UK charity, Human Rights at Sea, has been transferred to HRAS International (HRASI) to take forward. HRASI will continue its social justice ESG projects alongside instructed commercial work addressing improving human rights protections at sea. 

About LDAC

The Long Distance Advisory Council (LDAC) is an EU fisheries stakeholder body which provides evidence based advice to the European Commission and EU Member States on matters related to Fisheries Agreements with Third Countries, relations with Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) in which the EU is a contracting party, or with international organizations in whose waters the EC Fleet operates, as well as other policy aspects such as fight against IUU fishing, social dimension or labour rights.

The LDAC is currently made up of 54 member organisations including the fishing sector (including catching, processing and marketing sectors, and trade unions), and other groups of interest (environmental NGOs and civil society) from 12 EU coastal Member States. READ MORE