US seafood associations respond to human trafficking task force recommendations

Commercial seafood organizations have begun responding to a U.S. Justice Department task force report on human trafficking in international waters.

The report, nearly three years in the making, included 27 recommendations for the federal government to eliminate loopholes or strengthen policies. Some of those recommendations include the need for congressional legislation. Among this is a recommendation to create a temporary worker visa program that would ban “recruitment fees” paid by workers on American vessels that fish in international waters but deliver products in U.S. ports.

Hawaii Longline Association Executive Director Eric Kingma said in a statement the visa program would be a welcome step. While foreign workers are currently allowed on U.S. boats, they cannot enter the country. Because of that, the vessels must pick them up at a foreign port. When they arrive in Hawaii, those workers can only leave the port for medical reasons or to leave the country via Honolulu International Airport, provided they receive permission from Customs and Border Protection officials.

Kingma said the visa program “would benefit foreign workers in our fishery, allowing them to go home and visit family and friends and then return to Hawaii via air travel in an efficient, humane manner.”

In its own assessment, the Southern Shrimp Alliance noted the task force called on Congress to “clarify” the role NOAA Fisheries plays in identifying human trafficking incidents. The clarification includes allocating funds to the agency so it can train observers to identify trafficking indicators and make referrals to law enforcement.

“While NOAA already has sufficient authority to train its U.S. observers on human trafficking issues, there is no explicit requirement for it do so,” the task force report said. “As a result, the agency best placed to identify human trafficking indicators on U.S. vessels in international waters may not always be able to prioritize these activities.”

The SSA said that NOAA Fisheries should “interpret its authority” to ban seafood imports when there’s evidence it was collected through forced labor.

Photo courtesy of Meister Photos/Shutterstock


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