The Hawaii Longline Association says it has worked to improve the lives of foreign fishermen after reports about squalid conditions on some vessels.
The Hawaii Longline Association says it welcomes the recommendations contained in two recent reports to Congress that outline ways the seafood industry can prevent labor abuse.
The longliners, which primarily target tuna and swordfish, faced intense scrutiny after a 2016 investigation by The Associated Press found a number of foreign crewmen working the vessels were living in squalid conditions and earning as little as 70 cents an hour.
Since then, Congress has called for more oversight of the national and international seafood industry, particularly when it comes to issues of illegal fishing and human trafficking.
Eric Kingma, HLA executive director, says the local longline fleet has already taken several steps to ensure Hawaii’s fishermen are treated humanely. While he took issue with some of the findings of the AP articles, he acknowledged it sparked a needed conversation about how foreign fishermen are treated.
“That report did damage to the reputation of our fishery and we’re still dealing with that, but we have to move on,” Kingma said. “Certainly, we took the issue very seriously and responded with our own review of crew, captains and vessel owners.”
He said HLA’s internal review did not find any evidence of human trafficking or forced labor in the longline fleet, which is made up of about 140 vessels and nearly 700 foreign fishermen.
In 2018, two Indonesian fishermen settled a human trafficking lawsuit with a California-based captain and vessel owner in which they claimed they were verbally abused and denied medical treatment.
According to the lawsuit, the men said they were trafficked through the Hawaii longline fleet and worked around the islands and off the shores of California.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. court in San Francisco, claimed the men were trafficked through the Hawaii longline fishing fleet and forced to work on the boat around Hawaii and off the shores of California.
Kingma said the association has developed a written code of conduct and crew handbook that lays out a process for filing grievances over workplace conditions and contractual disputes. Phone numbers to local community resources, including the Seafarers Ministry and medical professionals, are also provided.
All the information, Kingma said, is translated into the native languages of the fishermen, many of whom come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and other Pacific island countries.
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