06 August 2020
Call for independent investigation into deaths and human rights abuses
06 August 2020
On 5 August 2020, BLOOM, Blue Marine Foundation, SharkProject, and WWF issued a joint statement calling for a full and independent investigation into deaths and human rights abuses in the convention area of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). This statement follows the publication of a Human Rights at Sea report in July, which highlighted shocking cases of human rights violations and observer deaths at sea in the Pacific Ocean.
In particular, our statement echoes the tragic death and suspected murder of Kiribati fisheries observer Eritara Aatii in March 2020 on board the Taiwanese registered fishing vessel Win Far No.636. This death, and many others (he is the eighth known fisheries observer to die or go missing in the region since 2009), occurred in the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) tuna fishery — the largest tuna fishery in the world — which gained a very controversial Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2011 (see ‘To go further’).
The fact that the MSC is a sham is now established, but such serious human rights issues occurring in certified fisheries is a colossal problem far beyond environmental and structural weaknesses, which should not be regarded lightly. Besides our call on the WCPFC to commission a full and independent investigation into the deaths and human rights abuses in its convention area, we continue to ask retailers and brands to distance themselves from the MSC as long as its promises are not kept and its standards and processes radically reformed.
To go further
In 2017, many actors including BLOOM launched the On The Hook campaign to prevent the recertification of the PNA tuna fishery. The point of contention was simple: this fishery targets two species of tuna (skipjack and yellowfin tuna) using a single gear: a purse seine. During the same trip, this purse seine can be used opportunistically on ‘free schools’ of tuna — the activity that is MSC-certified — or on schools formed around ‘fishing aggregating devices’ (FADs). This practice using FADs catches many sharks, turtles, juvenile tuna and other protected or sensitive species, making it unsustainable. In February 2018, the PNA fishery was recertified, but the MSC announced in February 2020 that the controversial ‘compartmentalization’ of fisheries would now be banned from certification assessments (without withdrawing current certificates for compartmentalized fisheries…). In addition, there are now tuna fisheries that are MSC-certified for their activities under FADs, which represents an additional drift of the label.
The PNA fishery is also very controversial from another standpoint: shark finning. Shark finning is the practice of removing and retaining the fins of sharks and discarding their carcasses at sea. The fins are highly prized. The fishers catch the sharks and slice off the fins, with no regard to whether the shark is alive or dead. The sharks — most of them still alive — are then tossed back into the sea to bleed to death or to be attacked by other sharks or fish. This wasteful and inhumane practice was banned by the MSC from its standards in 2011 (effective in 2013) and violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, but despite these nice promises by the MSC, this ban is still poorly enforced in MSC-certified fisheries, including the PNA fishery.
> See our article on shark finning in MSC-certified fisheries
Notes and references
 A purse seine is a large vertical net used to encircle schools of tuna. A sliding system closes the net at the bottom, and the whole school gets trapped.
 Fishing aggregating devices are floating rafts equipped with various thins such as tarps, cables and nets to attract fish. These devices are regularly criticized for catching many juveniles and unwanted species, sometimes threatened. They can also create an “ecological trap” that leads schools of tuna to areas that are less adapted to their physiology. Purse-seine tuna fisheries around these devices now represents the majority of the five million tonnes of tuna caught every year (of which more than half of the stocks are overfished).