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Activists Raise Awareness About Human Rights Abuses in Hawaiian Longline Fishery

Just off the coast of Waikiki, a stranded fishing boat is mistaken as a tourist attraction. The 79-foot Pacific Paradise crashed into a shallow reef in mid-October. To activists and journalists, this boat acts as a warning to the reality of human rights abuses in the fishing industry. To environmentalists, divers, surfers and locals it’s a scourge on the pristine, blue waters of Hawai’i. Swimmers have reported feeling and smelling fuel in the water.

According to an Associated Press article this past October, the boat was “transporting foreign workers destined for low-paying jobs in Hawai’i’s fishing fleet”.

The partially submerged boat is supposed to be moved by the end of this month and sunk offshore, though the month is almost over.

“This boat shines a harsh light on Hawai’i’s longline fishing industry,” said Cassie Burdyshaw, advocacy and policy director for Turtle Island Restoration Network, a marine conservation nonprofit. “It is unacceptable that the humans are working in slave-like conditions to provide luxury seafood to wealthy United States citizens. They can sink the boat, but we’re going to keep taking action to address ongoing human rights abuses in the world’s fishing industries. It’s time we put people before seafood.”

In July 2017, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and Ocean Defenders Alliance filed a human rights complaint with an international commission to investigate claims of human rights violations in Hawai’i’s commercial fishing industry.

The filing asked the panel to determine the responsibility of the U.S. for human rights abuses against foreign workers in Hawai’i’s longline fishing fleet.

Turtle Island Restoration Network, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and Ocean Defenders Alliance are working together to raise awareness about human rights abuses in the Hawai’i longline industry.

In 2016, an Associated Press investigation found that some Hawaiian fishing industry workers were being paid very little and living in squalor. Foreign workers are regularly transported through Hawai’i via fishing boats when they do not have visas and are not allowed to fly into the United States.

“Hawaiian lawmakers in Washington D.C. are advancing The Sustainable Fishing Workforce Protection Act, which calls for workplace protections for fishermen after an Associated Press investigation found hundreds of foreign fishermen confined to boats and some living in slave-like conditions,” said Burdyshaw.

Under these bills, H.R. 4225 and S. 2071, fishermen would get their visas in their home countries, allowing them to fly into Hawai’i for fishing jobs, ultimately eliminating their two-week journey at sea. The fishermen would be protected by federal labor law at the docks and at sea.

According to the Associated Press, “the 79-foot boat carried 19 foreign men and a captain, who officials say was the only U.S. citizen aboard.”

“There is no way that 19 people could comfortably or humanely fit on a 79-foot boat that usually supports a crew of five or six,” said Dylan Bedortha, advocacy associate at Turtle Island Restoration Network, who used to work as an observer on longline boats in Hawai’i. “It would surprise me if it had more than 8-10 bunks maximum. The most people I’ve been on a long liner with is nine including myself, and even that was cramped.”

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