Fishing and human rights

Fishing trawler Gomersal/WWF
Advocacy Update

Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, not only can it cause significant environmental and ecological damage, but it can also cause substantial social and economic harm. Including human and labour rights violations, which evidence suggests are pervasive across fishing fleets operating in the Pacific.  

Work conditions on some vessels meet the international criteria for slavery, forced labour and trafficking. Fisheries observers, the “eyes and ears” for fisheries management, can face intimidation, threats, and assault, including their deaths.

Which is why for Bubba Cook, New Zealand-based Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager for WWF, addressing this ‘people’ issue is an essential part of his work on building sustainable fisheries.

He sees a direct correlation between human rights and conservation. If a vessel, company, or captain is willing to risk the lives or exploit their crew, they’re not going to follow the rules on fisheries management or bycatch. And in turn, badly treated crew, often overworked and underfed, can’t really be expected to prioritise respecting the ocean.

Bubba is a strong advocate for better protection for those working on fishing vessels, both crews and observers. Calling for rules and regulations to be strengthened and properly enforced. New technology, that allows for better monitoring, control and surveillance of what is happening in fisheries, will be a crucial part of this.  

So another focus of Bubba’s work is supporting the development and expansion of the Seafood and Fisheries Emerging Technologies (SAFET) Platform. He is also working with New Zealand government, industry, and technology service providers as part of the Cameras on Boats Technical Advisory Group to successfully implement the system nationwide.

When you think conservation, blockchain, artificial intelligence and sophisticated electronics might not be where your mind first goes. But to reverse the loss of biodiversity and protect the ocean, we need to make the seafood supply chain fully transparent and traceable. We need new thinking and change at all levels.