Human rights group petitions on behalf of Hawaii's fishermen

An investigation revealed hundreds of men from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations working as fishermen are exempt from basic labor protections due to a federal loophole. Many may make as little as 70 cents an hour.

Caleb Jones/AP
A man unloads fish from the Sea Dragon, a United States fishing vessel, at Pier 38 in Honolulu, on March 23, 2016.

Groups have filed a human-rights complaint that aims to jump-start an investigation into conditions among foreign workers in Hawaii's commercial fishing industry.

Turtle Island Restoration Network told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they filed the complaint last week with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The filing asks the panel to determine the responsibility of the United States for human rights violations against foreign workers in Hawaii's longline fishing fleet.

An Associated Press investigation into the seafood industry revealed that hundreds of men are confined to Hawaii boats that operate due to a federal loophole that exempts the foreign fishermen from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour.

The fleet catches $110 million worth of luxury seafood annually.

The petition, which the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and Ocean Defenders Alliance joined, was filed on July 13 with the agency that can make non-binding recommendations to government officials and policymakers.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, which works to protect human rights in the hemisphere. The US is a member of that organization.

"Hawaii's longline fishery operates in a void of regulation. Government at the state and federal level is failing to ensure even the most basic human rights for these workers," said Cassie Burdyshaw, advocacy and policy director for the Turtle Island group.

Since initial reports, little has changed in the industry that provides ahi tuna and other fish to American and overseas consumers at a premium price.

A Hawaii lawmaker introduced measures to create more oversight but they failed. Both proposals aimed to find ways to get more information about what's happening on the boats and to catch potential problems.

"The lobby was out full force to kill this bill, just as I expected," said state Rep. Kaniela Ing, who pushed the measures. "It's difficult because there's very few advocacy organizations for these sorts of migrant workers, so their voice is not as loud as the moneyed lobby behind the longline guys."

In written testimony submitted during legislative hearings, Jim Cook and Sean Martin of the Hawaii Longline Association argued that foreign fishermen "possess legal standing and have legal recourse."

However, US Customs and Border Protection agents now stamp "Refused" on every fisherman's landing permit. That means they are technically not allowed to set foot on US soil, customs officials said. The state requires fishermen to be legally admitted to the US to get fishing licenses.

The men are not permitted to fly into the country because they do not have visas and must instead arrive by boat.

Attempts to contact Mr. Cook and Mr. Martin were unsuccessful Wednesday.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.