By Cliff White, Executive Editor
Published on Thursday, February 16, 2017
Lawmakers in Hawaii have advanced legislation that would increase oversight over the state’s commercial fishing industry, following a series of articles by the Associated Press that found 600 to 700 foreign fishermen working in difficult and potentially illegal conditions in the state's commercial fleet.
The AP’s original report, published in September 2016, alleged foreign fishermen, most from Southeast Asian and Pacific Island nations, are paid as little as USD 0.70 (EUR 0.62) per hour, work shifts as long as 22 hours nonstop and are confined to their ships and a few piers in Honolulu for years at a time.
An updated AP article, published 10 February, alleges that Hawaii has been illegally permitting the foreign fishermen to work in the United States, considering the fact that their landing permits are voided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when they first arrive in the U.S. Despite that fact, they are still granted commercial fishing licenses by Hawaii’s Land and Natural Resources Department, according to the AP.
The new bill, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Kaniela Ing, chairman of the Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs committee, calls for records of employment and fishermen contracts to be retained with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, according to a separate AP article.
"We went so soft with this," Ing said in the article. "We're not interfering with the contract...We're not even setting minimum labor standards. We're just saying whatever you've agreed to, even if it's horrendous, we just want to see to be sure that that's being met. That's it.”
The bill is opposed by the commercial fishing industry. Jim Cook, of the Hawaii Longline Association, said the industry recently introduced several reforms intended to improve conditions for the fishermen. He also argued that its not the purview of government to interfere in contracts between individuals and companies.
The state official who leads the office that would be in charge of retaining copies of contracts also stated his concern over the bill.
"For fishermen to come into our office and for our staff to inspect a contract is way beyond what we're in a position to do," Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Bruce Anderson said. "We wouldn't know if the contract was legitimate or not. We wouldn't know what to do with it."
On Tuesday, 14 February, the bill passed the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs and it will next be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee.