By Cliff White, Executive Editor
Published on Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Two separate legislative efforts to increase state oversight of commercial fishing licenses in Hawaii, initiated in response to an Associated Press investigation into the working conditions of foreign fishermen in the Hawaiian fleet, have failed to advance.
One bill would have required fishing license applicants to apply in person, “creating a logistical barrier because most of Hawaii's foreign fishermen are confined to their boats,” according to the AP. Supporters of the bill said that interaction would give foreign fishermen “a chance to tell state officials if they were victims of human trafficking or having problems such as withheld wages,” the article reported.
The second bill had called for records of employment and fishermen contracts to be retained with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
However, following opposition by the Hawaii Longline Association, which argued that state officials should not be put in the position of having to review labor contracts, Hawaii’s House Judiciary Committee and Senate Committee on International Affairs and the Arts deferred action on the legislation, making the bills ineligible for further consideration in the state’s current legislative session.
"I think we all share an interest to ensure that there's safety for the crews of these boats, but we just felt like the bill was more of a federal issue," state Rep. Scott Nishimoto told ABC News. "I read through the bill and I didn't really see how collecting contracts in different languages would do anything to ensure their safety."
Representatives of the Hawaiian commercial fishing industry said the legislation could have potentially crippled their business, arguing that it would result in labor shortages and skyrocketing costs.
Jim Cook, co-owner of Hawaii-based Pacific Ocean Producers and a member of the Hawaii Seafood Council, testified to the state legislature that the state's commercial fishing industry could shut down if the bill passed.
State Sen. Karl Rhoads, who had introduced one of the bills, said he had changed his mind about it after hearing about its potential impact from the fishing industry.
"I think they're probably right," Rhoads told the AP. "They wouldn't be able to get visas (for the foreign workers) and they won't be able to get enough Americans to do it at a wage they're willing to pay."