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On the trail of the missing PNG fisheries observers

Fishing monitoringKEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – The other day I tweeted an alarming story that had been raised in the Papua New Guinea parliament by East Sepik Governor Alan Bird.

“The latest observer lost was James Numbaru, an employee of PNG's National Fisheries Authority, who went missing in mysterious circumstances in the sea near Nauru last year,” Radio New Zealand had reported.

My tweet read: “In recent years 18 official #PNG fisheries observers have ‘disappeared’ from foreign fishing vessels. Eighteen! Their job is to look out for illegalities. Only now has the matter been raised in the PNG parliament.”

Well this brief note had a big reaction: so far it has reached more than 5,000 people and triggered over 160 interactions with readers.

This morning I’ve received an email from Philip ‘Flipper’ Brown, a Hawaii-based American Fisheries Observer whose beat is North Central Pacific.

“Aloha,” wrote Flipper. “I read a retweet from you about the disappearance of 18 PNG fisheries observers.

“The Association for Professional Observers is very interested in keeping track of such things, and I am trying to track down the source of your statistic or where I might find any records of these deaths.

“We only have records of six deaths(that’s what it means when someone disappears at sea) - all good well-intentioned people trying to make a living and protect our resources.

“Anything you could do to point me in the right direction would be appreciated .

“Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing accounts for at least 14% and up to 30% of the total world seafood catch, so we are up against a huge financial interest that will kill an observer with impunity.

“If four mailmen were to disappear the reaction would be immediate. Any help would be appreciated.”

I’ve sent on Flipper’s request to Radio New Zealand, but any assistance readers’ are able to offer will be taken up by Flipper and his colleagues to help keep the Pacific safe for fisheries observers and environmentally secure.

You can email Flipper here [[email protected]] or respond through the Comments link below.


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Doug Robbins

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Philip 'Flipper' Brown | American Fisheries Observer, Hawai'i

Thank you for anything you can do. Observers are some of the best people I've ever associated with as a group and to think of the loss to their families shakes me.

And people don't disappear, they die slowly by drowning following torture. I guess it's a pirate thing.

Usually, things work fine on these trips. At the end of mine, I make a video and give the crewmen on the fishing boat a CD of the trip and that makes friends but, if the word is out, over you go.

I know anyone who cares for the planet is on our side but since we work all alone we rarely get to feel the love.Thanks for the coverage.

This video might give you some insight on the job for us in Hawaii. It was made for an International Observers Conference in Chile:

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