As fishery yields decline the demand for cheap labor aboard fishing vessels and in seafood processing facilities is increasing. Egregious violations like human trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labor are the result of this demand. The occurrence of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has been estimated at 11-26 million tons of global production annually, which may account for up to a quarter of the global catch. Recently investigators discovered seafood on American supermarket shelves supplied by slave labor.
Human rights and labor abuses in the seafood supply chain are drawing increasing attention in the media and among industry executives. As consumers and producers grow aware of the shocking reality of seafood production in some parts of the world, businesses are stepping up to address these issues.
FishWise's human rights expert, Aurora Alifano, helped organize a webinar on human rights in the seafood supply chain through SeafoodSource.com, a major news outlet for the seafood industry. Alifano served as a panelist alongside Libby Woodhatch of UK's Seafish and Maya Spaull of Fair Trade USA. The panelists addressed seafood industry leaders and nonprofit organizations working on human rights in the seafood sector, encouraging collaboration and presenting practical solutions to this global challenge.
Seafood companies can reduce human rights abuses by becoming more familiar with every level within their supply chains. Convoluted and multi-stage supply chains can make the problem seem overwhelming, but there are several actions companies can take, including: creating a policy on human rights, working to improve supply chain traceability, and increasing communication with vendors.
Seafood companies can further reduce the risk of human rights abuses in supply chains by:
• Supporting improvements to seafood traceability and supply chain transparency.
• Auditing for labor violations on vessels (by physically boarding the vessel and analyzing visual evidence of facilities onboard).
• Making plans to work with suppliers and to leverage change.
• Identifying opportunities to work with governments, NGOs, and other industry actors to identify risk areas, encourage effective policies, and set timelines for improvements.
• Reviewing case studies on best practices.
• Empowering and supporting small-scale fishermen.
FishWise recommends that seafood businesses share concerns regarding human trafficking and forced labor with suppliers and discuss improvements that suppliers can implement with agreed-upon timelines.
Seafood Source Premium members can listen to the webinar recording here. Not a member? Sign up for the Premium Membership Free Trial for a week to watch the webinar recording and access other Premium information.
My name is Rachael Confair and I am pleased to have joined the FishWise Team. I am a Project Manager working with the Traceability and IUU project team under Mariah Boyle, the Division’s Director. I look forward to working with such a great team and meeting the rest of the FishWise community!
My path to FishWise is not straightforward, but looking back there is a clear route towards sustainable fishing. I grew up in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where my love for the ocean sparked my interest in human impacts on our natural resources. Fast-forward, my undergraduate education is in Conservation Biology and in English from Arizona State University. I worked as a Camp Instructor at the Phoenix Zoo, educating the public of all ages about the natural world. While an undergraduate, I ran a project studying the impacts of UV-B on an Antarctic plant species, but it was policy and working alongside industry that I enjoyed the most.
After college, I worked in Washington, D.C. with two non-profit organizations focusing on sustainability and wildlife conservation, but ended up back in Arizona working in the public sector as an inspector. Working in food safety was both challenging and encouraging. I was on the ground level, witnessing everyday problems that impacted operators, while working within their capacity limits and improving food safety.
This experience inspired me to visit a successful women’s aquaculture cooperative in Nepal. After witnessing first hand the importance of keeping the balance between natural resources and human livelihoods, I was inspired to return to school for a master’s in international policy at Middlebury Institute for International Studies. My graduate research focused on illegal fishing and the means to prevent illicitly caught goods from entering our domestic market and preventing economic hardship on vulnerable fishing communities.
I am excited to build on my past experiences by helping FishWise partners achieve their sustainability and traceability goals.
The recent release of the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report revealed the extent of forced labor and human trafficking taking place in the seafood industry. The global demand for inexpensive seafood drives some countries to operate within the realm of modern day slavery, exploiting victims with coercion and false descriptions of what life will be like on these fishing vessels.
The report features a four-tier system in which each country receives a ranking that reflects a government’s actions to combat human trafficking within their nation. From Belize to Burundi, it was made apparent that human rights violations are a sizable problem in the seafood industry, both at sea and on land. While there has been a lot of press around Thailand due to its second consecutive year at the lowest tier ranking and its issuance of a ‘yellow card’ by the European Union over illegal fishing earlier this year, other countries also received the lowest ranking in this report that need international pressure to encourage improvements.
In Belize, migrants come in search of work and many will fall victim to forced labor in the fishing industry. Across the Atlantic, children and young adults in Burundi are trafficked into the fishing industry, often by their own family members, neighbors or friends who recruit them under false pretenses. In Comoros, children on the island of Anjouan are forced into the fishing industry. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, which sells fishing rights to other nations, was downgraded to the lowest ranked tier this year. These islands have become a destination where East Asian women and girls are recruited into prostitution with crew members who dock on foreign fishing vessels. Belize supplies the U.S. with lobster and the Marshall Islands are a key source of bigeye tuna, supplying the United States with 862 tons in 2014. This reminds us that the problem exists beyond Thailand and engagement with these supply chains is needed.
This is a critical time for the U.S. Government to assert its priorities in addressing human trafficking occurring in the global fishing market.
In the TIP Report, the U.S. government recommends that countries accused of human rights violations offer protective services for victims, develop and conduct anti-trafficking education and awareness raising campaigns, and undertake research to study human trafficking within their country. Human rights and environmental NGOs suggest these governments conduct frequent at-sea inspections of fishing vessels, train inspectors on identifying and addressing the needs of trafficking victims, and enforce strict penalties on the trade of fraudulent crew manifests and identification documents at ports. Now that the State Department has illuminated the unlawful and inhumane activities occurring in seafood supply chains, it’s time for government, NGOs, industry, and consumers to all work together to combat the use of modern day slavery in this industry.
To learn how consumers and companies can help prevent human trafficking and forced labor in seafood supply chains read our Q&A.
For more information regarding these issues please visit our Human Rights Resources page.
My name is Traci and I am happy to announce that I am the newest member of the FishWise team. I will be working as a Project Manager in the Traceability Division, aiding in developing tools to improve seafood traceability and combat illegal fishing and human rights violations.
I grew up in California near the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which has always been surrounded by political controversy as one of California’s major water hubs. Being surrounded by the constant battle over water usage delegation in a river system that is home to many native threatened and endangered species sparked my interest in water resource science and policy.
Desiring to be closer to the ocean, I completed my B.S. in biology at UC San Diego with an emphasis in ecology. In my junior year I took the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica, living in a small coastal town where fishing is the largest source of income for most of the community. My involvement in that community illuminated the improvements needed to ensure fishing practices and aquaculture operations are sustainable. While there, I conducted research on using alternative protein sources as fish feed in carnivorous fish farms to reduce the amount of wild fish needed to feed the farmed fish. Collaborating with the local fishermen on this project and seeing the potential to decrease our impact on our ocean’s resources pushed me to pursue a career in aquatic research and management.
Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I continued directly on to receive my master’s degree in biology with an emphasis in marine ecology at UC San Diego / Scripps Institution of Oceanography. My master’s research focused on a colony of harbor seals that have established a controversial haul-out and breeding site in La Jolla, CA. My scientific research soon became well known in the community surrounding this controversy, which led to interviews in the San Diego Union Tribune and on National Public Radio.
After graduating, I returned full circle and worked in the private sector as a fisheries biologist, focusing primarily on research in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. My research allowed me the opportunities to work in various salmon and steelhead hatcheries, and study migration patterns of hatchery born and wild populations of fish. I had the pleasure of working on a variety of fisheries science projects, one of which was the large scale Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which is a highly controversial project to divert water from the Delta to California’s Central Valley.
My involvement in aquatic resource management issues led me to seek out a career more focused on fisheries advocacy. I could not be more thrilled to now be working at FishWise with such a talented and passionate team. I look forward to aiding FishWise to the best of my ability in our mission to promote the health and recovery of our ocean ecosystems!
My name is Meg Songer and I am excited to announce that I am transitioning to the role of Project Manager for our Independent Retailer Partnership program here at FishWise. I will be acting as a liaison between our Independent Retailer partners and FishWise to communicate the importance and feasibility of seafood sustainability while maintaining strong professional relationships.
The passion that I have developed for marine conservation is rooted in my hands-on introduction to marine ecosystems through environmental education. I grew up mostly in the Midwest but lived abroad for several years, which allowed for a great deal of traveling all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a young adult. These initial adventures were just the beginning of my sense of amazement in the wonders of the sea.
As an undergraduate student in environmental studies at Iowa State University, I became concerned with finding ways that I personally could affect positive changes in the global environment. I let my competence as an empowered consumer lead me on a path toward marine stewardship, which eventually led me here to Santa Cruz and FishWise. I am thrilled to continue learning more from this impassioned, problem solving, and dedicated team.
Meg’s favorite pastimes include:
- Free diving
- Rock climbing
- Learning new languages
- Music and comedy
- Long twisty bike rides through the countryside