The average consumer may not realize it, but the fishing industry is also tied to some horrific abuses of human rights. In putting a meal with fish on the table, you may also be helping to sustain patterns of exploitation and abuse at sea.
Several reports have highlighted the fact that some sectors of the fishing industry continue to use forced labor and physical punishment, and even deliberately kill workers. Fishery workers can be extremely vulnerable while at sea, far out of sight of law enforcement agencies or help from friends and family.
We’ve written how fishing is bad for the world’s oceans, and for our health, but it’s also bad for the many enslaved fisherman. We have written before about modern day slavery in the fishing industry in east Asia, but it has now spread to other parts of the world. African and Asian crew members working on a pair of U.K. scallop trawlers were taken to a place of safety by British police earlier this month as suspected victims of modern slavery.
For instance, NGO workers have described the exploitation of fishermen off of South Africa’s shore as being “rife and rampant.” After being rocked by a series of abuse scandals, New Zealand has taken steps to ensure that employers who use slave labor can’t operate in its waters.
Tuna, marlin, shark, sailfish, and swordfish commercially caught in Hawaii is often fished, using destructive longline gear, by vulnerable workers enduring human rights abuses.
Stories of slavery at sea today highlight appalling human conditions, with workers separated from their families and forced into abysmal conditions, often prevented from returning home.
Fishery workers can be lured into situations of modern slavery by seemingly legitimate employment opportunities, but once recruited they find themselves unable to leave because of the threat of violence towards themselves or family members, physical confinement on- and off-shore, the withholding of wages, and the debts they incur through the recruitment process.
The largest part of the answer to this problem is to simply stop eating fish. This will reduce the demand for fish, and cut the incomes of those using these abusive tactics. There are now several brands of vegan seafood and fish available, including brands such as Sophies Kitchen, Gardein, Atlanta Natural Foods, Vivera, Good Catch, Tofuna Fysh, and Quorn. All of these brands avoid any risk of abusive fishing practices, and they’ll be better for your health as well.