State and federal lawmakers are promising to improve conditions for hundreds of foreign fishermen working in Hawaii’s commercial fleet, and at least one company has already stopped buying fish from the boats following an Associated Press investigation that found the men have been confined to vessels for years without basic labor protections (“Foreign crews confined to boats catch Hawaiian seafood,” Sept. 12, page 7).
The Whole Foods supermarket chain has halted buying seafood caught by foreign crew until it is clear the men are treated fairly.
On Sunday, the Hawaii Seafood Council said that starting on Oct. 1, the Honolulu Fish Auction will sell fish only from boats that have adopted a new, standardized contract aimed at assuring no forced labor exists on board.
The AP report found commercial fishing boats in Honolulu were crewed by men from impoverished Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations who catch prized swordfish, ahi tuna and other seafood sold at markets and upscale restaurants across the US.
A legal loophole allows them to work on the US-owned, US-flagged boats without visas as long as they do not set foot on shore. The system is facilitated by the US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.
While many men appreciate the jobs, which pay better than they could get back home, the report revealed instances of human trafficking, tuberculosis and food shortages.
It also found some fishermen being forced to defecate in buckets, suffering running sores from bed bugs and being paid as little as US$0.70 an hour.
On Capitol Hill, Hawaii’s congressional delegation — US senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz along with Representative Tulsi Gabbard, all Democrats — said they were exploring legislative solutions after being startled by the findings about the state’s US$110 million industry, which ranks fifth among the country’s highest-grossing fisheries.
“It is completely unacceptable that the inhumane treatment of any workers, foreign or not, is legal under US federal law,” Hirono said in a statement.
In Honolulu, state Representative Kaniela Ing, chair of the Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, asked Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin to weigh in on whether boat owners should be regulated under Hawaii rules.
If so, Ing said there would likely be an injunction ordered to halt labor or business violations. If not, he said he would introduce legislation to protect the workers, who labor up to 22 hours a day.
“That loophole doesn’t mean it’s OK to treat them like slaves,” Ing said.
Chin said he was reviewing the request.
The Hawaii report is part of the AP’s ongoing investigation into human trafficking and labor abuse in the global seafood industry.
Last year, reporters found some fishermen locked in a cage on the remote Indonesian island of Benjina. Others were buried under fake names. Their catch was traced to the US, and the reporting led to more than 2,000 slaves being freed.
Federal law requires that US citizens make up 75 percent of the crew on most commercial fishing vessels in the US; the Hawaiian fleet has an exemption carved out years ago, largely by lawmakers no longer in office.
“We always would want workers to have decent working conditions,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said.
He added that the AP report “highlighted how sometimes people fall in a loophole and they don’t get the full protections of labor laws that most of us enjoy.”
After the story was published, Hawaiian boat owners and seafood sellers quickly formed a task force which they said was creating a universal contract.
They said they are working with buyers and government officials.
The investigation found the fishermen are paid as little as US$350 a month, but many also get small bonuses, lifting their monthly pay to US$500 or US$600.
A lucky few earn a percentage of the catch, making it possible to triple their wages.
Most of the approximately 700 crew members in the Hawaii fleet are from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
Because they have no visas, they are not allowed to fly into the country, and are instead picked up at foreign ports and brought to Honolulu by boat.
Some crew members are from Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and carry green cards because of a special relationship with the US.
A few are locals from Hawaii as well. They are allowed to leave the docks when they come in after their three-week fishing trips, but the rest are detained on board by captains who are legally required to keep their passports.
Companies that responded condemned labor abuse and said they would investigate.
Whole Foods is suspending sales from boats with foreign crew, but will continue to buy seafood from “local, day-boat fishermen with proven fair labor practices,” such as vessels with just one or two workers, often friends or relatives, spokeswoman McKinzey Crossland said.
Environmental, labor and anti-trafficking advocates called for reform.
Kris Coffield, director of the Honolulu-based anti-trafficking group IMUAlliance, said he has been receiving complaints from foreign fishermen for the past three or four years.
In a statement, the Washington-based Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking called for the gaps in law and policy to be closed.
“Until the United States puts its own house in order, it will be difficult to convince other governments to seriously combat modern slavery in their own countries,” the alliance said.
THE ANSWER? The drug uses neutralizing antibodies produced by the human immune system, which the team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to a halt. A drug being tested by scientists at Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the coronavirus, researchers said. Sunney Xie (謝曉亮), director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, said that the drug had been successful in animal testing. “When we injected neutralizing antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” Xie said. “That means this potential drug has [a]
It was a much-anticipated milestone likely hastened by COVID-19: New Zealand has reached a population of 5 million people, after citizens and residents rushed home when borders began to close due to the pandemic. New Zealand grew from 4 million to 5 million in 17 years, the quickest rate of growth in the nation’s modern history, Statistics New Zealand said. Migration has been the chief driver for the population of the island-nation, which increased by half a million people in the past six years alone. “The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused unusual international travel and migration patterns in recent months,” Statistics New
‘SERIOUS QUESTIONS’: Three US senators sent a letter to the US commerce secretary asking whether the project ‘takes into consideration national security requirements’ US Senator Chuck Schumer and two other Democratic colleagues have written to top US administration officials asking for details of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd’s (TSMC) plan to build a US$12 billion fab in Arizona. Hsinchu-based TSMC on Thursday last week announced that it would build a plant to make 5 nanometer chips by 2024 that would have the capacity to produce 20,000 semiconductor wafers per month. The world’s biggest contract chipmaker already has one chipmaking fab in Camas, Washington, and design centers in Austin, Texas, and San Jose, California. It said it planned to start construction in Arizona next year and
MOM’S LONG CAMPAIGN: Mao Yin had been brought up in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, without any idea that he was the target of a decades-long, high-profile search A Chinese man who was stolen from his family as a toddler has been reunited with his parents after 32 years. Mao Yin (毛寅), then two-and-a-half years old, was snatched in 1988 when he was walking home from nursery with his father. His parents finally embraced him again on Monday in Xian, where he was born. After Mao vanished, his mother Li Jingzhi (李靜芝) quit her job and launched a decades-long search for her son, that included sending out more than 100,000 flyers and appearing on numerous TV shows. That long campaign helped 29 other families find their own missing children and made