The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) endorsed a historic decision on labor standards and human rights abuses at its annual meeting last week in Manta, Ecuador. The delegations also approved improved monitoring, control, and surveillance measures, but fell short of approving measures to include Spanish as an official language or address ecosystem impacts of large fleets.

During the week-long meeting, delegations from member countries and Cooperating Non-Contracting Parties (CNCPs) discussed nine separate proposals aimed at enhancing the sustainability and performance of the jumbo flying squid fishery in international waters. Major seafood companies, industry associations and pre-competitive coalitions expressed support for the proposals, in addition to extensive support by artisanal representatives and the processing industry organized by CALAMASUR (Committee for the Sustainable Management of Jumbo Flying Squid).  

Two proposals by Ecuador, the United States, New Zealand and Australia relating to decent work conditions and the addressing of reported human rights abuses in distant-water fishing fleets operating within the convention area were approved. 

However, Ecuador’s proposal to include Spanish as an official language faced strong opposition, particularly from the Chinese delegation. This opposition was expressed even before the meeting commenced, during the plenary of the Administration and Finance Committee.

Alfonso Miranda, president of CALAMASUR, criticized this decision as an “inadmissible act of arrogance.” Pascual Aguilera, a representative of Chilean artisanal fishers, emphasized the disadvantage coastal Spanish-speaking producing countries face when defending their positions in discussions.

Other approved proposals included significant conservation and management measures (CMMs) focused on improving monitoring, control and surveillance during transshipments, and enhancing science-based management via increased rates of onboard observers, although the final approved proposal for onboard observers was less comprehensive than the original. 

Other proposals, such as the urgent implementation of Port State Measures or the establishment of an “area of concern” to address ecosystem impacts from large fleets operating in concentrated areas throughout the year, were rejected. A working group co-led by Ecuador and the US was approved to work on these matters interseasonally. 

 Miranda expressed deep concern about these decisions. “The Commission missed a unique opportunity to show to the international market the willingness of member countries and CNCPs to advance towards a more responsible management of the fishery by making significant advancements in monitoring, control and surveillance,” he said. “The fishery still requires reliable and timely data, particularly from fleets operating far from their landing ports in the areas closely located to the South American coast within the Convention Area.” Of particular concern is the SPRFMO’s transparency, as the latest Convention report lacks detailed minutes of discussions and specific information about the countries opposing decisions, as was done in previous reports.