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Informative resources for seafood-related human rights issues

At the 2015 SeaWeb Seafood Summit plenary “Preventing Human Rights Abuses In Seafood Supply Chains”, six panelists spoke out about the complexity of human rights and labor abuses within the seafood industry and the inherent difficulties of addressing these issues throughout seafood supply chains.

The following publicly available resources expand upon the topics highlighted during the plenary and provide additional information about the issues and improvement efforts.

Is there a comprehensive overview of seafood-related human rights issues?

The FishWise white paper, Trafficked II summarizes human rights abuses in seafood supply chains. Trafficked II provides an overview of the issues and the major challenges to reform (corruption, lack of transparency, lack of enforcement, and the prevalence of illegal fishing). It explores how more than fifty international and regional government programs, certification systems, NGOs, companies, and industry groups are working on human and labor rights. Companies can use the recommended steps in this report to address human rights.

How are environmental and social issues linked within seafood supply chains?

The powerful Environmental Justice Foundation video and accompanying report, ‘Pirates & Slaves: How Overfishing in Thailand Fuels Human Trafficking and the Plundering of Our Oceans’, demonstrate the links between declining sustainability in fisheries, Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing and human rights abuses in Thai fisheries. EJF's first major investigation into human rights abuses at sea was in 2010 with a focus on West Africa. The 'All at Sea' video and report provide a good overview of how EJF’s work in this area began, and the urgent need for action.

What is human trafficking and where does it occur?

The U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons calculates scores that represent countries’ compliance with the U.S. Trafficking Protection Act (TVPA) and are reported annually in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The TIP report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. To learn more, download these fact sheets describing human trafficking and the intersectionbetween environmental degradation and human trafficking.

Do current efforts to audit social compliance aboard fishing vessels exist?

The Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS)is a voluntary vessel based program certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices on all types of fishing vessels and fisheries. The RFS is the only global standard that audits compliance on board fishing vessels, including ethical and welfare criteria. Check out this video to learn how the RFS is designed to complement the existing standards in the fisheries and seafood supply chain.

Can environmental and social criteria be evaluated together?

Yes! In February, Safeway and Fair Trade USA announced a partnership to bring the first-ever Fair Trade Certified™ wild fish to the North American market. This is the first wild fish certification program to include both environmental and social benchmarks, ensuring that fishermen operate under internationally recognized fair working conditions, and that they must meet independently audited standards of environmental compliance. Learn why handline-caught yellowfin from the Maluku Island chain of Indonesia is so exiting for fishermen and consumers alike in this National Geographic article.

To learn more about FishWise’s work on human rights, please contact us.

FishWise examines human rights in seafood with North American and European eNGOs


Human rights have recently become a focal point in sustainable seafood conversations worldwide. Environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) work closely with seafood companies to improve the environmental responsibility of their business practices. Human rights abuses found within seafood supply chains could undermine responsible seafood commitments and the excellent environmental improvements that are underway. Because eNGOs have longstanding and trusted relationships with their business partners, and because the social and environmental concerns associated with seafood are often interrelated, these companies frequently turn to their eNGO partners for expertise on social issues and to serve as a liaison with outside groups.

Human rights in seafood supply chains - what roles can environmental NGOs (eNGOs) play? (PDF), January 21st, 2015

In January of 2015, FishWise guided an interactive discussion to understand how eNGOs can address human rights abuses within the seafood industry by helping companies implement responsible business practices. Representatives from 15 eNGOs and philanthropic foundations gathered to learn about challenges that other eNGOs and their partners were facing and to share perspectives about how to more fully address both environmental sustainability and social considerations.

Download the meeting notes here.


FishWise convenes seafood-focused human rights meetings

FishWise recently organized a plenary and luncheon to facilitate collaboration among stakeholders working to address human rights and labor issues within different aspects of the seafood industry.

On February 10th, six panelists examined the complexity of such issues during the plenary “Preventing Human Rights Abuses In Seafood Supply Chains” at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in New Orleans. The panel summarized the conditions that allow human rights abuses to persist in the seafood industry, discussed the difficulties in improving labor issues in seafood supply chains, and provided suggestions for companies looking to strengthen the social components of their purchasing agreements.

Next Steps to Address Human Rights Abuses in Seafood Supply Chains: Meeting Summary (PDF), February 10th, 2015

FishWise executive director Tobias Aguirre led the plenary on Preventing Human Rights Abuses in Seafood Supply Chains (Photo: Lucas Lee Graham, Boat Drink Llc.)

Following the plenary, Humanity United, the Freedom Fund, and FishWise co-hosted a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss next steps to address human rights abuses in seafood supply chains. It was attended by representatives from the seafood industry that have expressed interest in improving human rights within sustainable seafood, as well as representatives from the conservation community, funders, and key members of government. Building on the momentum from the human rights plenary, participants shared observations and reflections, discussed two topics that have risen to the top of recent discussions (tools & resources and pre-competitive discussions), and worked in small groups to identify next steps that would help to address these important issues. Given the diversity of participants, this interactive session focused on broadly gathering ideas, rather than choosing or prioritizing.

Download the meeting notes here (PDF).

Update: Status of IUU nations carded by European Commission


As part of FishWise’s ongoing efforts to track news related to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, we are closely monitoring updates to the European Commission’s IUU watch list.

The European Commission (EC) issues “yellow cards” and “red cards” to nations that have not taken sufficient action to control IUU activity in their waters or by their flagged vessels.  Yellow cards serve as a formal warning to countries that the Commission wants to see time-bound improvement in their anti-IUU governance, while a red card can include economic sanctions and trade measures. Countries that have been yellow-carded have 6 months to show improved structural and legal reforms to their fisheries management, monitoring, and enforcement systems. If the EC decides a country has made insufficient progress after 6 months, the country will be given a “red card” and potentially banned from importing fishery products into the EU.

There are currently three nations with IUU red cards:

  • Sri Lanka
  • Cambodia
  • Guinea
  • Thailand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Ghana
  • Curacao
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • Fiji
  • Togo
  • Panama
  • Vanuatu

The following is a list of yellow-carded nations:

The following nations were previously yellow-carded but have made credible progress in improving their fisheries governance and combatting IUU, and have subsequently been removed from the EC’s list:  

For further details about the European Commission’s anti-IUU fishing program, please see the Commission’s news page:



NOAA report to Congress names IUU countries

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its biannual report to Congress on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In the report, NOAA identifies six nations engaging in IUU fishing: Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Portugal.  

NOAA is interested in IUU fishing because, “IUU fishing and seafood fraud undermine international efforts to sustainably manage and rebuild fisheries, and creates unfair market competition for fishermen playing by the rules, like those in the United States.”(read more here)

The six nations identified in the report have committed a range of IUU fishing violations in the last two years, including fishing in restricted areas, discarding and misreporting catch, and improperly handling entangled sea turtles.

Violations of international conservation and management measures:

  • Columbia

  • Ecuador

  • Nicaragua

  • Portugal

Overfishing of shared stocks and fishing within the U.S. EEZ:

  • Mexico

Undermining conservation measures of a regional fisheries management organization:

  • Nigeria

In the interim period before the 2017 report, NOAA will work with each nation to improve their fisheries management and enforcement. However, if they fail to make sufficient progress toward addressing NOAA’s concerns these countries risk seafood import bans and restricted fishing vessel port privileges.

Encouragingly, all but three of the ten nations identified in the 2013 report took sufficient action to avoid repeat appearances on NOAA’s IUU list by adopting new laws, sanctioning violators, and/or improving monitoring and enforcement. However, despite addressing NOAA’s 2013 concerns, Columbia, Ecuador and Mexico were re-identified in the 2015 report due to recent IUU activity.

The report also listed five countries “of interest”: Belize, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, and Spain.