14 US vessels earn groundbreaking labor certification
A fleet of American fishing vessels has become the second ever to earn the Fairness, Integrity, Safety, and Health (FISH) Standard for Crew certification, a move deemed to be a major advance for the recognition of the importance of labor standards in the seafood industry.
The 14 Alaska pollock and Pacific whiting catcher-processors are operated by the U.S.-based firms American Seafoods, Arctic Storm, Coastal Villages, Glacier Fish, and Trident Seafoods, collectively operating as the At-sea Processors Association (APA). It is the second group to earn FISH Standard for Crew certification, after Nueva Pescanova’s Namibian subsidiary, NovaNam, received certification for its 11 fishing vessels in July 2022.
“Our employees are at the core of our operations,” Glacier Fish Company President and CEO Jim Johnson said. “It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that crew members are treated with the utmost fairness at every stage of the recruitment and employment process. We are proud to have voluntarily committed to this additional layer of scrutiny, which should give buyers and consumers continued confidence that we are doing right by the men and women who produce our seafood.”
FISH Standard for Crew is an accredited, global, third-party certification program launched in 2021 providing assurances that labor practices on vessels in certified wild-capture fisheries are using ethical labor practices and provide proper treatment of crews. The highest level of the standard includes adherence to four major principles: socially responsible labor practices and ethical behaviors, establishment of fair conditions of service for all fishers, assurances of the safety and health of all fishers, and the provision of decent accommodations, water, and food.
The FISH audit process includes vessel inspections; private interviews with crews; a review of company recruitment practices, pay records, and grievance logs; an examination of company safety protocols; and a review of company operations relating to crew welfare.
“FISH serves as one tool harvesters like APA can use to demonstrate to its customers and to stakeholders that their seafood is harvested from responsible sources with respect to crew treatment, compensation, and on-board conditions,” FISH Board of Directors Chair Fridrik Fridriksson said in a press release.
APA Executive Director Stephanie Madsen said her organization pursued the certification to assure customers of its fair treatment of its employees, and to ensure the group’s processes matched up to the high standard set by the certification.
“Retailers and foodservice operators are increasingly committed to providing seafood to their consumers that is not only environmentally sustainable, but socially responsible. The third-party assurance that comes with FISH certification gives confidence to buyers and consumers that the crews who harvest seafood like that from the APA catcher-processor fleet are treated with respect and fairness,” Madsen said. “We are very proud to be among the first to attain FISH certification, a recognition that affirms our companies’ longstanding commitments to safety and responsible treatment of our crews. The FISH certification process was challenging, yet practical and fair, and pushed our fleet to improve on our already high standards.”
Madsen said she expected the labor standards movement to continue to grow in the seafood industry.
“There is a lot of momentum right now – from governments, industry, and civil society – to address instances of unethical treatment of workers in global supply chains. We believe the FISH Standard for Crew can be one important tool in those efforts as they relate to seafood,” she said. “Through this certification, we are proud to be helping raise the bar on what should be expected globally from those who operate fishing vessels.”
At-sea Processors Association Sustainability and Public Affairs Director Matt Tinning told SeafoodSource there was a growing receptivity in the business community to verified labor standards that review how seafood companies operate.
“Eco-certifications such as the Marine Stewardship Council have been around for decades, but the idea of a third-party vessel labor certification program is new,” Tinning said. “There is no silver bullet when it comes to crew welfare globally, but a credible third-party certification program has significant potential to move the needle. For those in the fishing industry who want to demonstrate they are doing the right thing – and challenge others in the global industry to do better – FISH Crew has the potential to be a powerful tool.”
Although there has been efforts by the Marine Stewardship Council and other seafood certifications to pursue their own labor standards, Tinning said the FISH certification had its own value.
“Eco-certifications are complicated, and their standards are multifaceted. It is appropriate and preferable for those with specific expertise relating to crew welfare on fishing vessels to be leading on this issue,” he said.
Tinning addressed criticism levied at the FISH standard by the some members of the Seafood Working Group – a collection of 28 non-governmental organizations including Greenpeace and the Environmental Justice Foundation, that the FISH standard has “significant weaknesses in design, application, and monitoring.”
“Nothing's going to solve the labor problem on its own. It's going to take a range of tools. And my hope is that over time, a broad range of stakeholders will see that this is an important tool,” Tinning said. “When a new program like this emerges, and when the industry is involved, it’s not entirely surprising that there's a degree of skepticism. But I strongly believe that the FISH Crew Standard will demonstrate its value in driving positive change over time.”
National Fisheries Institute Vice President of Communications Gavin Gibbons praised the APA for obtaining the FISH certification and criticized those questioning the importance of the certification.
“What are Greenpeace USA and friends doing about labor challenges in the seafood community? Complaining about them. Meanwhile a transparent, independent, auditable standard is up and running and certifying fisheries, including one of the largest, most important on the globe,” Gibbons said. “While a group of well-heeled NGOs wring their hands, others roll up their sleeves.”
Photo courtesy of At-sea Processors Association