Tuesday, December 13, 2016

 

Four Congressmen query Coast Guard and NOAA about conditions and violations in the Hawaii longlines fishing fleet



The human rights abuses we’ve discovered in the seafood industry, including on ships flying the American flag, are shameful and disturbing,” [Representative Raúl M.] Grijalva said. ”The deeper we dig, the more we find that far from using some harmless loophole, these vessels are flat out breaking the law. Too much seafood on our plates today comes with a side order of violence and human misery.


Conditions on some vessels in the Hawaiian longline fleet have been described in the AP article and by crew members and fishery observers as unsafe and unsanitary. What responsibilities does the Coast Guard have to ensure that these vessels do not present a safety or health hazard to crew members regardless of their citizenship status?


…while these are some of the more valuable species harvested by the Hawaiian longline vessels, it is clear from landings records and marketing materials produced by the Hawaii Seafood Council that these vessels are fishing for, catching, and selling species other than those defined as HMS [highly migratory species] in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including significant quantities of mahi mahi, wahoo, moonfish, and sickle pomfret.


by Larry Geller

Following the Fishing for Justice forum held December 6 on Capitol Hill, Congressmen from four committees sent a letter yesterday to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard questioning conditions and illegalities reported in Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet.

The letter is posted below, and an OCR copy is available for download.

In addition to concerns related to abusive conditions in the fishing fleet, the letter also notes that the longlines fleet is catching fish other than “highly migratory species” and so the vessels do not qualify for the statutory exemptions that allow them to emply labor other than 75 percent US citizens.

From the letter:

The Magnuson-Stevens Act specifically defines highly migratory species (HMS) as "tuna species, marlin, oceanic sharks, sailfishes, and swordfish." No federal agency has the authority to categorize any other species of fish as HMS for the purposes of fisheries management or law enforcement. Yet, while these are some of the more valuable species harvested by the Hawaiian longline vessels, it is clear from landings records and marketing materials produced by the Hawaii Seafood Council3 that these vessels are fishing for, catching, and selling species other than those defined as HMS in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including significant quantities of mahi mahi, wahoo, moonfish, and sickle pomfret.

Based on this information, these vessels should not be eligible for either of the aforementioned statutory exemptions from the manning requirements in 46 U.S.C. §8103. Instead, they should be required to be manned by at least 75 percent U.S. citizens, and certify that U.S. labor is not available before allowing foreign workers with H2-B visas on board.

In a press release accompanying the letter, two of the signers of the letter stated:

“The human rights abuses we’ve discovered in the seafood industry, including on ships flying the American flag, are shameful and disturbing,” Grijalva said. ”The deeper we dig, the more we find that far from using some harmless loophole, these vessels are flat out breaking the law. Too much seafood on our plates today comes with a side order of violence and human misery. I’m working with my colleagues to press responsible federal agencies to take action under existing law, and if we need to close loopholes, pass new legislation or create additional enforcement authority, we’re going to start taking those options very seriously.”

“I am deeply disturbed—while the United States has been criticizing other nations for serious labor, environmental, and human rights abuses in high seas fisheries, U.S. flagged fishing vessels based out of Hawaii may be guilty of the same violations,” Rep. DeFazio said. “Turning a blind eye to illegal fishing practices and serious labor abuses on fishing vessels here at home undermines our nation’s credibility in prosecuting this behavior abroad. These vessels also exploit cheap labor from places like Indonesia, allowing crews that haven’t been properly vetted for national security concerns to gain access to U.S. ports. NOAA and the Coast Guard must aggressively enforce existing U.S. laws that prevent illegal fishing operations.  Moreover, they must fully investigate allegations of serious labor and workplace abuses reported on U.S. flagged fishing vessels, and if confirmed, take swift action to stop these violations.”

Download an OCR copy of Dec. 12 Letter to NOAA and Coast Guard on Human Trafficking from Disappeared News



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