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Frozen tuna and billfish being transhipped. Credit: James Moir Clark

Frozen tuna and billfish being transhipped. Credit: James Moir Clark

In Consortium with CapFish, MRAG provides observers for the Transhipment Regional Observer Programmes (ROPs) run by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) and CCSBT (Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna). These were developed amidst growing concern that at-sea transhipments were being used to launder illegally caught tuna and similar species. ICCAT, IOTC and CCSBT introduced observer programmes in 2007, 2009 and 2010, respectively, to monitor transhipments across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Consortium of MRAG and Capfish have run all of these programmes since their inception.

The Consortium provides recruitment, comprehensive training, provision of lifesaving equipment and arranges logistics for transhipment deployments throughout the year. Observers are supported throughout their deployment by our team of highly experienced observer programme coordinators. All deployments undergo a thorough debriefing and validation of the observer’s outputs. The end of trip reports and data are checked and verified before submission to the IOTC and ICCAT Secretariats.

Observers are deployed onto carrier vessels which receive transhipments from tuna longliners. Their role is to monitor transhipments of tuna and tuna-like species on the high seas, verify the identity of transhipping longline fishing vessels, check fishing vessel compliance with the RFMO (Regional Fisheries Management Organisation) Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) and independently determine the number and weight of species transhipped.

MRAG and Capfish observers are trained and approved to be deployed on Carrier Vessels operating under the auspices of the IOTC, ICCAT and CCSBT. Whereas the focus of IOTC and ICCAT are on specific oceans, CCSBT focus on the management of a single species, the southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii). Observers monitor transhipments of this species whilst deployed on IOTC or ICCAT transhipment deployments.

Whilst observers embark and disembark in ports across the two oceans, from Singapore to Panama, the deployments themselves are truly oceanic. Because of this, transhipment observers play a vital role in monitoring the activities of vessels far from any other oversight and are crucial in the fight against IUU fishing. MRAG work closely with the RFMOs, vessel operators, shipping agents and fishing vessel flag states to provide near real-time coordination of deployments and fulfilling reporting obligations to combat illegal fishing.