12 Feb. 2012. The 12th Regional Observer Coordinators Workshop (ROCW 12) is currently held in Nuku'alofa, hosted by the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries and coordinated and funded by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). The workshop was opened by the Hon. Minister for Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries, Lord Vaea, at the Loumaile Lodge Conference Centre on Monday 13th February and blessings by Rev. Lomu and the Evangelist Choir of the Free Wesleyan Church.
Lord Vaea, in his opening address emphasized the regional significance of this workshop. Observer work contributes to the proper and sustainable conservation and management of our fisheries resources, which is fundamental to the livelihoods of our people, he stressed. He also recognized the growing importance of observer work over the years and the employment opportunities it offers to our Pacific Island people.
In essence, fisheries observers collect scientific data for stock assessment and monitor the compliance of fishing vessels with national and regional fishing regulations. There has been a recent increased focus on observer programmes with a regional requirement for 100% observer coverage of purse seine vessels and 5% of all longline effort. There are now over 600 fisheries observers employed through national and regional fisheries agencies across the Western Pacific Ocean, most monitoring the tuna fisheries of the region. So in addition to providing valuable stock assessment and compliance information, the programmes are a large aggregate employer in the region hiring young men and women from many local communities.
The theme of this year's workshop was "Debriefing- Maintaining Momentum and Improving Process". Debriefers are senior observers accredited to check the information collected by other observers to ensure it is accurate and that any reported incidents are dealt with appropriately. Building the numbers of debriefers and observer trainers in the region is a focus of the regional agencies to improve the observer programmes' infrastructure and provide a career pathway for skilled fisheries observers.
Eight Pacific Island observer national programmes attended from the start of the workshop namely, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Tuvalu. Cyclone Jasmine and flight disruptions left representatives from Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa and staff of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) stranded in Fiji but are due to arrive in the last days of the workshop. The cyclone also led to a change of meeting venue from Loumaile Lodge to the Fisheries Division Office however, the workshop continued without any major disruption. In addition, the workshop was supported by representatives from the US-Hawaiian Observer programme and staff from SPC and FFA. The workshop will conclude on Saturday 18th February 2012.
All participants enjoyed the renowned hospitality of Tonga spiced up with Jasmine's excitement.
By Fisheries Division, Ministry of Agriculture & Food, Forests and Fisheries, Tonga