Portman Urges Obama Administration to Address Human Trafficking in the Fishing Industry
November 18, 2015 - 11:42 AM
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Co-Chairs of the Senate Caucus to End
Human Trafficking, urged the Administration to address the link between
illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and human trafficking in
the seafood supply chain. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report,
54 countries either have trafficking in their fishing industries, are
transit countries for trafficking forced labor on fishing vessels in
other jurisdictions, or have a high risk of trafficking in their fishing
“As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we are
concerned about the link between illegal, unreported, unregulated
fishing and human trafficking in the seafood supply chain,” the senators wrote.
“As a human rights champion, the U.S. can and should endeavor to
provide adequate safeguards to protect some of the world’s most
vulnerable populations from human trafficking.”
“Oceana applauds the leadership of Senators Portman and Blumenthal and echo their concerns,” said Lora Snyder, Campaign Director of Oceana.
“Transparency and traceability in the seafood supply chain not only are
beneficial in the fight against pirate fishing and seafood fraud, but
also to protect the welfare of seafood workers from the fishing boats to
the processing plants and factories far off our shores. As the Task
Force develops new rules for traceability, it is critical that they are
comprehensive, applying to all seafood sold in the U.S. and extending
through the full supply chain.”
Today’s letter follows up on Portman and Blumenthal’s efforts to
combat human trafficking. The senators recently reintroduced the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act to increase the country’s ability to monitor and effectively combat sex and human trafficking across the globe.
Earlier this year, three of Portman’s bills to combat human trafficking were signed into law.
Text of the letter can be found below.
Dear Mr. President,
As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we are
concerned about the link between illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU)
fishing and human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. The U.S.
State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report identified
54 countries that either have trafficking in their fishing industries,
are transit countries for trafficking forced labor on fishing vessels in
other jurisdictions, or have a high risk of trafficking in their
fishing industries. As a result we urge the Administration to ensure
that the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood
Fraud addresses human trafficking within the seafood supply chain by
issuing a strong rule that will increase transparency and traceability
for seafood products sold in the U.S.
First, we request that the Administration’s final rule require catch
documentation that includes verifiable information requirements and full
chain traceability for seafood products sold in the U.S. The U.S. will
not be able to tackle the immense problems associated with IUU fishing
without including specific benchmarks and timelines for expanding the
documentation requirements to all seafood products and extending
traceability requirements throughout the full supply chain in the final
rule. Likewise, catch documentation must include information about
workers onboard fishing vessels to combat abuse and trafficking, as
detailed by The New York Times in its “The Outlaw Ocean” series.
Second, we encourage the Administration’s final rule to focus on
enforcement requirements. The lack of enforcement on the high seas and
an increase in transshipment through mother ships allow for increased
human trafficking on vessels. As marine ecosystems collapse and the
pressure for inexpensive seafood continues, fishing vessels are forced
to travel longer distances to find fish. Regular returns to shore make
longer distance hauls unprofitable, consequently trapping laborers on
fishing vessels for weeks, even years, at a time. Providing penalties
would create greater accountability for operators of IUU fishing
vessels, consequently deterring these operators from engaging in
egregious human trafficking practices.
Third, we implore the Administration to ensure the final rule applies
to all seafood, not just a small number of species. The proposed “at
risk” species approach currently favored by the Administration will only
target “seafood products of particular concern because the species at
issue are subject to significant seafood fraud or because they are at
significant risk of being caught by IUU fishing.” Focusing on a limited
number of species is not likely to solve the problem because we fear it
will redirect bad actors engaging in human trafficking to other species
outside of those deemed to be “at risk.”
We look forward to working with you to ensure these policies are
implemented and encourage you to continue working with the Interagency
Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. As a human
rights champion, the U.S. can and should endeavor to provide adequate
safeguards to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable populations
from human trafficking.
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