Cruelty to Human and Nonhuman Animals in the Wild-Caught Fishing Industry

Author:Kathy Hessler - Becky Jenkins - Kelly Levenda
Position:Kathy Hessler is a Clinical Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School, Director of the Animal Law Clinic and Director of the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative. Rebecca Jenkins is the Aquatic Animal Law Fellow at the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative at Lewis & Clark Law School. Kelly Levenda is the Student Programs Attorney at the Animal Legal ...
30 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
cruelty to human anD nonhuman animalS in
the wilD-caught fiShing inDuStry
Kathy Hessler, Becky Jenkins, and Kelly Levenda*
I. IntroductIon
The welfare of animals killed for our consumption, and the
treatment of agricultural workers involved in this indus-
try, are pressing ethical issues not sufciently discussed
in the context of the shing industry. While concerns about the
welfare of terrestrial farmed animals gain some prominence in
discussions about sustainability and food policy, concern for
the welfare of sh killed for food lags far behind. This lack of
concern for their welfare is in spite of considerable scientic
evidence showing that sh experience pain, fear, and suffering.
The shing industry also has grave impacts on humans, which
include health and safety issues, labor law violations, and even
human rights abuses such as human trafcking, child labor, and
slavery. Incorporating these less publicized concerns into our
conversations about shing is necessary in order to improve law,
policy, and consumer awareness in this area.
II. background
a. typeS of animalS involveD
When we talk about the types of aquatic animals used in
capture and farmed shing, it is important to note that the list is
very broad. It includes: nsh, crustaceans (e.g., shrimp, crab,
lobster, oyster, craysh); mollusks (e.g., snails, clams); pin-
nipeds (i.e., seals and sea lions); cephalopods (e.g., octopuses,
squid, cuttlesh) and cetaceans (i.e., whales and dolphins).1
Each of these categories of animals may be treated somewhat
differently according to the laws or customs of different nations,
and as a result, are more or less involved in the shing industry.2
The narrowness of our conception of “shing” needs to
be broadened in order to make conscious and reasoned policy
decisions. For example, although most people do not think of
whaling when they think of shing, perhaps because they are
mammals,3 it is a part of the shing industry.4 Whales are still
killed for food (and for scientic purposes) in a number of coun-
tries.5 The killing of whales has been the source of signicant
controversy as it pertains to treaty rights, national sovereignty,
culture and tradition, sustainability and ecosystem protection
as well as the welfare of the animals themselves.6 Whaling is
more widespread than is generally known.7 Notably, Japan,
Norway, and Iceland argue for increased whaling quotas,
relaxed regulation, and an end to the 1982 whaling ban imposed
by the International Whaling Commission (IWC)—suggesting
the need to protect shing stocks by reducing the numbers of
whales.8 But other countries are also involved. Indonesia con-
tinues whaling on a small scale using non-industrial methods,9
and in 2012, South Korea said it would undertake scientic
whaling in its own waters.10 Russians in Chukotka Autonomous
Okrug and natives of Bequia (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
are permitted by the IWC to take certain numbers and types of
whales each year.11 Under an exception for indigenous popula-
tions, the United States,12 Canada, and Greenland allow whaling
for species covered by the IWC.13 The Faroe Islands is a semi-
autonomous country and not a party to the international whaling
ban; as such, it conducts hunts not covered by the IWC.14 Some
think the Filipino whaling industry continues underground oper-
ations even after it became illegal in 1991.15 Between the 1985
ban and 2014, 1,355 whales were killed legally in the United
States, not accounting for illegal killings.16 The conversations
we have about whaling—with its cultural, environmental, and
animal welfare concerns—also apply to other forms of shing.17
b. uSeS of aquatic animalS
Aquatic animals are shed or farmed for multiple purposes.
These uses include pet food, livestock and sh food, fertilizer,
glue, oil, and by-products (oil and by-products are also some-
times used in human food).18 Indications are that all of these
uses are increasing.19 Between 2010 and 2021, the anticipated
growth of world aquaculture is 33%.20 By 2025, the estimated
growth of global sheries and aquaculture production is 17%.21
Total shery production is also expected to rise from 167 million
tons in 2013-2015 to 196 million tons by 2025, with aquaculture
moving from 44% of that total in 2013-2015 to 52% in 2025.22
Putting aside the non-food reasons these animals are killed,
and any conversation about the value, necessity, or utility of
those actions, it is clear that even the nutrient-based uses of
aquatic animals, particularly nsh, has changed signicantly.23
In 1960, agricultural use of sh meal24 was predominantly, and
almost evenly used for pig and chicken feed.25 But by 2010,
73% of sh meal was used for aquaculture, 20% for pigs, 5%
for chickens, and 20% for other uses.26 A similar change has
occurred in the use of sh oil. In 1960, 80% of sh oil was used
for hardened edible use, and 20% was for industrial use.27 By
2010, 71% was used for aquafeed, 24% was used for rened
edible use, and only a small percent was used for hardened
edible and industrial uses.28
* Kathy Hessler is a Clinical Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School,
Director of the Animal Law Clinic and Director of the Aquatic Animal
Law Initiative. Rebecca Jenkins is the Aquatic Animal Law Fellow at the
Aquatic Animal Law Initiative at Lewis & Clark Law School. Kelly Levenda
is the Student Programs Attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the
Founder of Let Fish Live.
Fall 2017
c. typeS of fiShing
Different methodologies of shing present different con-
cerns. Wild-caught shing is often called capture, and “farmed”
shing is often called aquaculture.29 Operations conducted
entirely on land are sometimes called on-shore facilities.30
Hatcheries are on-shore facilities that breed sh or aquatic
animals in tanks for households or to release into streams and
lakes.31 Aquaculture operations can be both close to a shore32
or in the deep ocean.33 Each jurisdiction has its own rules and
regulations regarding these operations.34 Large scale and indus-
trial operations have the potential to create the most harm to
oceans,35 animals,36 and workers.37 Oversight and enforcement
of the existing laws are often lacking due to political will, lim-
ited resources, or the challenges of policing either the open sea
or private property.38 While this article will focus specically
on the wild-caught shing industry, it is important to note that
the aquaculture industry also presents signicant concerns, and
in recent years it has eclipsed the scale of the wild-caught sh
industry because of human consumption.39 In 1974, aquaculture
accounted for only 7% of sh consumed by humans, but by
2004 it had increased to 39%.40 A 2016 Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report estimates that
by 2020 over 50% of all (human and non-human) food sh will
come from aquaculture, and by 2030 that number will be 62%.41
D. Scale of fiShing operationS
The 2016 FAO report also indicated that in 2014, 49.8
million tons of nsh and 30.3 million tons of other aquatic
species were produced globally via aquaculture,42 and the FAO
forecasts the 2017 total to reach 82.5 million tons.43 For 2014,
wild-caught shing accounted for an additional 93.4 million
tons of animals,44 and it is projected to reach 91.2 million tons in
2017.45 This compares with 311.6 million tons of meat and poul-
try produced globally in 2014,46 which reached 322 million tons
in 2017.47 Ofcial statistics on the amount of sh caught each
year are not available because the FAO statistics are in tonnages,
not individual animals.48 A 2010 Fish Count Report estimated
that humans catch and kill 0.97 to 2.74 trillion nsh every
year.49 This estimate may be too low since the FAO sheries cal-
culate the amount of sh captured via tonnage. 50 This estimate
does not include sh who escape from shing gear and die, sh
caught illegally (i.e., poaching), animals caught unintentionally
in nets or gear as by-catch, animals who are injured or killed
by discarded shing gear (i.e., ghostshing), or any other unre-
ported capture.51 Removal of this many animals has a signicant
impact on the ecosystem and can result in food chain imbalances
and the impairment of a species’ ability to reproduce.52
The FAO reports suggest that the global sh trade in 2017
is worth $141 billion dollars annually with 152.5 million tons
used for food, 14.7 million tons used for feed, and 5 million tons
used for other purposes.53 The FAO also notes that in 2014, 56.6
million people globally were directly employed in capture or
aquaculture, with 84% of these workers in Asia, and 94% of the
sh farming occurring in Asia.54 Recent estimates for the United
States suggest that the wild-caught shing industry takes about
5 million tons of aquatic animals, with another half a million
coming from aquaculture.55
e. Scientific unDerStanDingS of the capacitieS of
aquatic SpecieS
Scientists now know far more about the capacities of
aquatic animals, which include their capacity to feel pain and
suffer.56 Studies have shown that certain aquatic species have
the following capacities: (1) sentience—sh, and other aquatic
animals;57 (2) physical feeling and pain and adrenal systems;58
(3) consciousness;59 (4) self-awareness;60 (5) awareness of time
and long and short-term memory;61 (6) emotional responses;62
(7) complex cognition;63 (8) recognize human faces;64 and (8)
tool use.65 Additional science addresses the ability of some
aquatic species to cooperate across species, protect their young
and each other, and engage in social learning and deception.66
These new scientic understandings require a shift in our
approach to sh and other aquatic species as well as a reassess-
ment not just of our uses of them, but also of the laws that affect
and fail to protect them.67 We recognize that not many people
want to forgo traditional practices in order to protect sh and
other aquatic animals, but we suggest that better animal welfare
practices results in better human welfare practices. Therefore,
calls for improvements should be considered.
III. the welFare oF wIld-caught FIsh
Humans catch and kill trillions of sh every year.68 Because
of this staggering number, their suffering is a major ethical
concern.69 As noted above, physiological and behavioral studies
show that sh have the capacity to feel pain.70 Fish welfare is
harmed when they are in pain.71 Fish are capable of learning
and remembering complex information, which suggests they are
capable of suffering.72 Being caught on a hook, being crushed
under other sh, and being gutted while alive are all instances
where shing practices produce painful situations; therefore, the
suffering of sh must be considered.73 Like other sentient ani-
mals that humans exploit and kill, humans are morally obligated
to protect sh from unnecessary pain and suffering.
a. fiShing methoDS
The major sh capture methods are: trawling; purse seining;
gill, tangle, and trammel nets; rod and line shing; trolling; pole
and line shing; and longline shing.74 Many sh are injured in
the process of being captured.75 By-catch—the capture of non-
target animals, who are usually thrown back into the sea as dead
or dying back—is also a concern with most shing methods.76
1. TraWling
In trawling, a large net is dragged through the water or
along the ocean oor to catch sh.77 Fish caught by trawling are
chased to exhaustion (the time varies considerably depending on
species), panic, and are scraped and injured by the net.78 Some
suffocate or are crushed to death under the weight of other sh.79
One study showed a 29% to 61% mortality rate for sh caught
when trawling.80 One study showed a 30% to 72% mortality
rate (usually from injuries or exhaustion) of sh who escape
32 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
trawling.81 Additionally, when pulling sh up from deep water,
they suffer decompression injuries—that is, parts of their gut are
forced out through their mouths and anuses, their swim bladders
burst, and their eyes bulge out of their sockets.82
2. Purse seining
In purse seining, a large net slowly surrounds sh and is
closed at the top like a drawstring bag.83 Fish panic and vio-
lently try to escape as the net gets smaller.84 During capture, sh
may be attacked by predators, and they may experience severe
exhaustion and injury from other sh, the net, and when brought
on board.85 If the net is lifted out of the water to bring the sh
on board, many are crushed to death.86 Fish that are deliberately
let out of the net experience high death rates up to 90%.87 Fish
caught through purse seining may also experience decompres-
sion injuries.88
3. gillneTTing
A gillnet hangs in the ocean and ensnares sh who swim into
it by their gills.89 Fish caught in gillnets panic and feel afraid.90
They experience severe exhaustion during a long duration of
capture spanning hours or even days (it is more stressful the
longer it takes), and considerable injury is done to their skin and
scales, thus interfering with their ability to breathe properly, and
causing them to suffocate.91 Some sh are attacked by predators
when ensnared in the net.92 When the net is brought onboard
and the sh are taken out of it—they can suffer further injury.93
Escapees are impaled on a gaff (i.e., iron hook).94
4. Tangle and Trammel neTTing
Tangle and trammel nets catch sh by entangling them
instead of snaring their gills.95 Fish caught by these methods
likely suffer similarly to those caught by gillnets, except that that
with tangle and trammel nets, sh can breathe normally and suf-
fer less severe physical injury.96 One study showed that 28% of
sh died in trammel nets, and this increases with the duration of
capture process.97
5. rod and line Fishing & Trolling
In rod and line shing, sh are caught individually on a
hook and line.98 In trolling, baited lines are towed through the
water.99 Fish caught on hooks experience fear, panic, stress, and
pain (most sh are hooked in or around their mouths or through
their eyes).100 The fear and pain that sh experience increases
when the line that they are hooked to is pulled.101 Fish caught by
trolling experience severe exhaustion.102 Fish may be impaled
on a gaff to bring them onboard.103
6. Pole and line Fishing & longline Fishing
In pole and line shing, bait (i.e., live sh) is used to stir
up a feeding frenzy.104 Fish are then caught on hooks, swung
aboard, and slammed onto the deck, which disengages them
from the hook.105 In longline shing, hundreds to thousands
of baited hooks (sometimes with impaled live sh) are on one
line to catch sh.106 There is a long duration of capture, ranging
from hours to days.107 Fish caught on hooks may be attacked
by predators.108 Baited cages are also used to capture sh.109
Fish do not experience much physical injury from this method
of shing, but they may be stressed from connement or may be
attacked by predators during the process.110
Live bait sh are sometimes used when catching sh.111
Bait sh suffer fear and distress from capture, connement (it
may be for days or weeks), hook impalement, being dropped
into the water (an unfamiliar environment), and being unable to
escape predators.112
b. the Slaughter of wilD-caught fiSh
The majority of wild nsh who are caught die by suf-
focation or live gutting.113 These are prolonged ways to die.
How quickly sh lose consciousness depends on their species,
how well they are adapted to tolerate low levels of oxygen,
their escape response (activity burns up their oxygen reserves),
and the air temperature.114 One study showed that sh who are
suffocated and eviscerated (disemboweled) become uncon-
scious in 25 to 65 minutes, and sh who are suffocated lose
consciousness in 65 to 250 minutes.115 Another study found
that it took 2.6 to 9.6 minutes for sh who are suffocated to
lose consciousness, and it took 4.5 minutes for sh who are
exsanguinated (have their gills cut) to lose consciousness.116
Fish are also sometimes put on ice as they suffocate, which
prolongs the time to lose consciousness in some species, but
decreases it in other species.117
Additional slaughter methods include, stunning (i.e., per-
cussive and electrical); CO2 suffocation; baths (i.e., salt, ammo-
nia, or ice); decapitation; asphyxiation; live chilling; gutting
while alive; pithing; shooting; use of dynamite to stun or kill.
Methodologies and legal restrictions vary by jurisdiction. No
humane slaughter laws apply to sh or aquatic animals in the
United States.118
c. reDucing Suffering cauSeD by fiShing
The suffering of sh can be reduced in many ways. First,
the use of live bait sh should be banned, as it is unnecessary,
and they suffer greatly.119 Second, the duration of capture should
be reduced by requiring lines and nets to be checked more often,
as sh suffer more the longer they are caught on a line or in
a net.120 Gillnets, which ensnare sh, should be checked every
thirty minutes, as shes’ stress levels are higher the longer they
are ensnared in the net.121 Third, the use of gear and equipment
that causes less injury to sh should be required (e.g., circle
hooks instead of traditional j-shaped hooks should be used), and
the better handling of sh and the careful removal of the hook
from the sh should also be required.122 Fourth, gillnets should
be banned, and tangle nets should be used instead. Tangle nets
cause less suffering because they only entangle sh, and they
do not ensnare their gills.123 Fifth, shers should be required to
catch sh from shallower depths (under twenty to thirty meters)
to reduce decompression injuries.124 Sixth, methods of handling
and landing sh that are less painful than gafng, and that
minimize their time outside of water should be developed and
required, so that they are not suffocating in air—for instance,
sh pumping systems can be used.125
Fall 2017
To reduce shes’ suffering during slaughter, it should be
required that sh are rendered unconscious before they are
killed.126 This would require that sh be rendered unconscious
soon after being taken out of water, so they do not experience the
(minutes to hours of) pain of being suffocated or gutted alive.127
Methods that cause immediate loss of consciousness that lasts
until death (so they do not feel themselves being killed) should be
used—such examples include percussive stunning (i.e., a blow
to the head), spiking (i.e., inserting a spike into the brain), and
electrical stunning.128 Immediately after stunning, sh should be
bled out or killed with an electrical current.129 Additionally, the
wild-caught shing industry should adopt automatic percussive
and electrical stunning, which are devices sometimes used on
boats for farmed shing.130 Lastly, a system for using food grade
anesthetics in water, like AQUI-S, to anesthetize sh before
stunning and killing should be developed so as to further reduce
the pain and trauma associated with being taken out of the water
(if the stunning method requires this) and stunned.131
D. making legal changeS
Globally, 93.4 million tons of sh were captured in 2014.132
The countries with the highest captures were China, Indonesia,
the United States, and the Russian Federation.133 Most sh were
captured in the Northwest Pacic, Western Central Pacic,
Northeast Atlantic, and Eastern Indian Ocean.134 Many coun-
tries need to adopt new laws to provide meaningful protection
for wild-caught nsh. For instance, sh welfare laws could be
adopted by adding protection of their welfare to: (1) the 2030
Agenda for Sustainable Development;135 and (2) the Code of
Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.136
1. The 2030 agenda For susTainable develoPmenT
In September 2015, United Nations’ Member States
adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.137
The Agenda’s goal is to end poverty and hunger while sustain-
ably managing natural resources (which includes wild animals
killed for consumption).138 The Agenda includes seventeen
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of “aspirational
objectives with 169 targets expected to guide actions of gov-
ernments, international agencies . . . and other institutions over
the next 15 years (2016–2030).”139 The SDGs set out specic
objectives for countries to meet within a given time frame,
with periodic monitoring to measure progress towards the
objectives and ensure that no country is lagging behind.140 The
FAO is working with countries to ensure SDGs are integrated
in national and regional policy.141
Many of the SDGs focus on justice. They include end-
ing inequality, poverty, and hunger, ensuring inclusive qual-
ity education, gender equality, and access to food, water, and
sustainable energy.142 One goal, SDG 14, expressly focuses
on the oceans: to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans,
seas and marine resources.”143 Justice for all, not just humans,
should be included in these goals. In the context of our food
system, justice for animals should mean, at the very least, not
causing them unnecessary suffering.144 Therefore, SDG 14
should be expanded with this suggested text to include the
objective of protecting animals: “to protect the welfare of sh
and other sentient aquatic animals who are used and killed for
The FAO helps countries meet the SDGs through the cre-
ation of targets and indicators, and provides advice on how to
meet these in the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) Support to the Implementation of the SDGs.145 The
FAO could create a target for reducing the suffering of sh, and
an indicator to measure progress toward that goal, such as the
number of countries that have adopted more humane shing
and slaughter methods. The concrete suggestions to reduce the
suffering of wild-caught nsh could be included in the UNDP
Support to the Implementation of SDG 14 and would make a
meaningful impact in helping countries regulate their sheries in
ways that could reduce the suffering of sentient aquatic animals,
like sh.146
2. The Code oF ConduCT For resPonsible Fisheries
In 1995, more than 170 Members of the FAO adopted
the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.147 The Code
includes goals, principles, and practical steps that Members can
take to implement the principles in its national policies, such as
in industry codes of good practice or legislation.148 It represents
a global consensus on a wide range of issues and was created
by many different stakeholders in the aquaculture and shing
industries, including governmental and non-governmental orga-
nizations, shers, aquaculturists, and the FAO.149
The Code establishes principles and standards for con-
servation, management, and development for all sheries, in
accordance with relevant international laws.150 It provides
guidance to Members on how to establish or improve their
legal framework regarding sheries and guidance in creating
and implementing new international agreements.151 One objec-
tive of the Code is to “promote protection of living aquatic
resources . . . .”152 The protection of “aquatic resources” who
are sentient animals,153 like sh, should include protecting their
welfare. The Code states as a general principle that, “[t]he right
to sh carries with it the obligation to do so in a responsible
manner.”154 Responsible shing should mean giving consider-
ation to shes’ welfare and reducing their suffering. The Code
also states that “management decisions for sheries should be
based on the best scientic evidence available.”155 This should
require Members to take into account the scientic consensus
that nsh can feel pain and suffer in deciding how to manage
their sheries. The management of sheries includes where to
sh, what animals to target and kill, and what equipment and
methods to use.156
The Code also states that, “sheries management organiza-
tions should apply a precautionary approach widely to conserva-
tion, management and exploitation of living aquatic resources
in order to protect them . . . taking account of the best scientic
evidence available.”157 This may mean that even if Members
disagree on the strength of the evidence for pain in nsh
(which many scientists believe is strong), they should apply a
34 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
precautionary approach to protecting sh welfare, and take steps
to reduce unnecessary suffering.
The Code should also adopt, as a general principle, the
protection of sh welfare. We suggest adding the following
language to Article 6: “The right to sh carries with it the
obligation to do so in a humane manner. Fishing methods and
equipment should not cause unnecessary suffering to sh and
other sentient animals. Fish caught for consumption should
be given a swift and a humane (as possible) death, by render-
ing them unconscious before they are killed.” This language
should be expanded, using the recommendations for decreas-
ing the suffering of sh through the regulation of methods and
equipment, in Article 7, Fisheries Management, and Article 8,
Fishing Operations.
IV. an oVerVIew labor & human rIghts Issues
In the global FIshIng Industry
The current state of wild sh stocks around the world is
a hotly discussed topic in both popular media and academic
writing.158 As was discussed above, the welfare of the indi-
vidual animals caught up in this system often gets overlooked.
Similarly, in comparison to the environmental impacts, the
welfare of the people working in this industry has received
little attention until recently.159 This section will provide a
brief overview of some of the most pressing issues facing sh-
ers around the world.
Despite the existence of general international labor con-
ventions, and even conventions specic to shing, such as the
2007 “Work in Fishing Convention,”160 commercial shing
remains one of the most dangerous professions in the United
States (and the world) today. Due to the fact that approximately
80% of seafood eaten in the United States today is imported, we
must pay close attention to the labor and human rights issues
associated with our imported seafood.161 To complicate mat-
ters further, both practically and legally, a signicant portion
of the United States’ imported seafood is caught in the United
States, exported oversees for processing, and then reimported
into the United States.162 This creates a very complex supply
chain because it involves multiple legal jurisdictions, and it
makes traceability and enforcement difcult.163 Currently,
most imported seafood in the United States comes from China,
Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Ecuador.164 As
discussed below, many of these top exporting countries have
well documented issues with general occupational hazards and
working conditions as well as other more egregious human
rights abuses.
a. occupational hazarDS & poor conDitionS
The International Labor Organization (ILO) identies sh-
ing as a highly hazardous sector.165 Working conditions aboard
shing vessels are amongst the worst working conditions in any
industry in the world.166 At sea, vessels can often operate with-
out scrutiny depending on the ag they carry, and whether they
operate in areas with limited monitoring, control, surveillance,
and enforcement (MSCE)—such as the high seas.167 While the
subsequent sections will discuss some of the more egregious
labor and human rights issues in the global shing industry, it is
important to note that the general conditions aboard shing ves-
sels across the world are often substandard.168 Well documented
issues aboard vessels, especially in “developing” countries,
include insufcient building standards, small unsuitable boats
venturing far out to sea, a lack of safety equipment and training,
infrequent inspections, and much more.169
b. human trafficking & Slavery
According to the ILO, while the transatlantic slave trade
has been abolished for two centuries, at least 21 million
people continue to work under coercion.170 Today it is esti-
mated that approximately 90% of the world’s forced labor is
extracted by private agents in labor-intensive industries like
shing.171 Human trafcking in the shing sector is extremely
prevalent.172 In 2014, the United States Department of State
Trafcking in Persons Report found indications of human traf-
cking in both the wild-caught and aquaculture sectors in the
following countries around the world: Angola, Bangladesh,
Belize, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Comoros, Costa Rica,
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia,
Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius,
Mongolia, Namibia, Federated States of Micronesia, Sierra
Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Taiwan,
Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, and
Vietnam.173 In 2016, a single Associated Press investigation in
South East Asia led to the release of more than 2,000 slaves.174
This is one isolated instance, but it may help to give perspec-
tive as to the scale of this issue globally.
c. exploitation of migrant workerS
Sadly, many people who fall victim to human trafcking
and slavery in the shing industry are migrant workers.175
Lack of documentation, debt from trafficking fees, and
language barriers make migrants particularly vulnerable to
coercion and slavery. Thailand is one of the countries that has
received the most media attention in relation to this particular
issue.176 While it is inherently difcult to nd records of how
many people are enslaved on Thai shing vessels, the Thai
government itself estimates that up to 300,000 people work
within its shing industry—90% of whom are migrants.177
Lured by Thailand’s more prosperous economy and large pool
of unskilled jobs, the vast majority of these migrants come
from neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Burma.178
Often times, these migrants pay brokers to help trafc them
over the border and nd them work in factories, on plantations,
or at construction sites—but many of them will be sold onto
boats instead to ll a massive labor shortage in Thailand’s sh-
ing sector.179
D. concluSionS & recommenDationS regarDing
international labor & human rightS
Labor and human rights abuses in the shing industry con-
tinues to be a huge problem around the world. There are many
reasons why this problem persists. First, there are the practical
Fall 2017
concerns such as the difculty of monitoring seafood imports
to determine their origin, which is something the illegal sh-
ing industry benets from.180 Second, global climate change
and sh stock depletion are forcing vessels to go further out
to sea, thus spending longer periods away from the shore.181
This can negatively impact the welfare of employees while
simultaneously making policing these vessels more difcult.182
Third, the abuse of migrant workers is prevalent in this indus-
try. A current example of this issue is the mass exodus of the
Rohingya people from Myanmar.183 It is estimated that at least
400,000 of this minority Muslim group have ed Myanmar in
2017 alone.184 These refugees, and others in different parts of
the world that heavily depend on shing, are often stateless
or working without documentation.185 Increased pressure from
climate change and sh stock depletion, along with a high
demand for cheap seafood makes migrant workers with a frag-
ile nancial and legal status vulnerable to coercion into human
trafcking and slave labor—thus creating a market for cheap
or free labor in an already under-policed industry.186
Labor and human rights issues in this sector are a complex
international problem. Addressing this problem successfully
will be difcult without cooperation from national level govern-
ments, the international community, and the private sector.187
This complex and multifaceted issue requires a multipronged
approach including: (1) integrating human rights and labor
concerns into the broader ght against illegal, unregulated and
underreported (IUU) sheries; (2) combatting human trafck-
ing; and (3) combatting the global refugee crisis and exploitation
of migrant workers.
Tackling IUU shing more broadly requires increased fund-
ing from the international community and the increased use of
technology to facilitate greater tracking and transparency in the
seafood supply chain.188 Specically, the Environmental Justice
Foundation has recommended that the FAO proceed with the
development of a comprehensive Global Record of shipping
vessels that will assign each industrial vessel a Unique Vessel
Identier (UVI) and contain information on vessel ownership
and shing activities.189 This could also be used as a method of
monitoring working conditions on vessels and compliance with
sheries law.190
The current international legal structure gives the United
States, European Union, and other major seafood importers
room to tackle human trafcking more seriously via trade law.
For example, the U.S. Department of State can move coun-
tries with evidence of human trafcking to a lower tier in their
annual Trafcking in Human Persons Report—so that they
bear the consequences of poor human rights enforcement.191
The European Union has a similar program.192 This means that
it is not just the responsibility of the exporting countries to
combat this problem, but also the countries importing the prod-
ucts of, and beneting from, this abuse.193 These mechanisms
need to be used robustly, i.e., by introducing a complete boy-
cott of countries using slave labor in their shing industry. As
outlined above, because so many countries violate labor laws
in this context, some would argue that adding enforcement
mechanisms are not practicable if people in the United States
and Europe wish to continue eating seafood at the current
Unfortunately, many of the reasons underlying the labor
issues in shing are hugely complex and multifaceted.195 One
such underlying issue is the global refugee crisis, which often
results in the exploitation of migrant workers.196 While many
of these refugee crises issues remain outside of the scope of
this paper, it may be worthwhile to consider the very current
Rohingya example to help us understand this problem. As men-
tioned above, Rohingya people have been eeing Myanmar for
many years.197 Other South East Asian countries along with the
international community have been grappling with this crisis
for some time.198 One suggestion, which has been raised by
commentators, is the possibility of adopting a European Union
type approach to this migration issue.199 Europe is also dealing
with a migration crisis, though it not an identical situation by
any means.200 The European Commission devised a plan for
resettling refugees that would divide migrants up based on an
European Union member country’s economic prosperity, num-
ber of refugees already taken in, unemployment rate, and other
factors.201 Southeast Asian countries could establish a similar
formula, based on gross domestic product (GDP), unemploy-
ment rates, and other factors to determine how many refugees
should be resettled and where. A commentator writing for The
National also suggested that international powers could make
promises to resettle a certain number of the Rohingya each year
for the next decade.202 “Washington [State] has taken in large
numbers of migrants from vastly different cultures before – the
Hmong in the 1970s and 1980s, or the Bhutanese in the past 10
years.”203 During these types of refugee crises, it is difcult to
focus on other human rights violations that are occurring in the
shing industry, or even to notice the overlap in issues. But it is
important to look at the local and global factors in human rights
violations affecting the shing industry in order to tackle them
directly and broadly.
In an increasingly interconnected international trade com-
munity, marketplaces beneting from trade relationships and
labor from the countries mentioned above should take responsi-
bility to support these countries’ efforts to address human rights
issues in the shing industry.204 The nature of this industry is
internationally interdependent; therefore, any solutions to this
problem will need to be addressed at the national and interna-
tional level as well as by the public and private sectors. In the
context of overshing, the international community has made
some progress on collaborating for internationally benecial
solutions. Now we need to take a closer look at this industry and
its impacts on human and non-human animals.
V. an oVerVIew oF labor Issues In the
domestIc FIshIng & aquaculture Industry
In addition to human rights concerns, workers in the shing
industry face many health and safety issues.205 Some of these
problems are the same as their terrestrial animal agricultural
worker counterparts, and some are unique.206 The focus here
36 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
will be on the capture segment of the shing industry, with a
brief mention of related problems in the aquaculture segment.
a. health anD Safety iSSueS
Discussions of shing tend to conjure placid images of a
small boat and a few friends shing comfortably for pleasure or
business.207 In reality, the hazards facing workers in this indus-
try are some of the worst of any industrial sector in the United
States.208 They include: noise; chemical exposure; shing gear
and mechanical accidents; boating accidents; musculoskel-
etal injuries; respiratory and immune issues; injuries cause by
extreme weather; sleep deprivation; physical and psychological
injuries from stress and challenges of the work, and; the lack
or malfunctioning of protective equipment.209 Some of these
injuries result in death or permanent disability.210
In other industries, especially in the United States, acci-
dents on the job can be responded to quickly by emergency
personnel.211 Even on remote farms, medical assistance may
not be terribly far away.212 However, for a worker injured at
sea, or even on a large lake or remote river, getting attention for
emergency medical conditions can be a signicant hurdle.213
Additional hurdles to safety include the age of shers in
this labor market. In the United States and elsewhere, some are
very young,214 and some are considerably older individuals.215
These factors lead to additional health and safety concerns.216
There are further hurdles to maintaining a safe working envi-
ronment for those workers who do not speak English well
because employers may not translate safety information, or
there may be delays or confusion around communicating
Some of the work of the shing industry takes place in pro-
duction facilities that are prone to their own set of harms, includ-
ing: repetitive motion injuries; physical injuries; psychological
injuries from working long hours or days at a time, especially
for those whose work focuses on killing rather than capturing
animals; and zoonotic or other disease transfers.218 Though not
often calculated in industrial harm, low wages, contract work
and job insecurity,219 especially when coupled with immigration
status insecurity,220 are also signicant forms of harm that need
to be addressed and remedied.
Agriculture and shing are two of the deadliest jobs in the
United States.221 In 2014, shing was the second worst industry
in terms of health and safety, behind only logging, with a fatality
rate of 110.9 per 100,000 workers.222 The shing industry is also
poor at dealing with the economic cost of lost work and health
costs because laborers in this industry had an average annual
salary of only $37,640.223 By comparison, terrestrial agriculture
was listed as the sixth worst industry with a death rate of 26.7
per 100,000 workers (though they were somewhat better off eco-
nomically with an average annual salary of $69,880).224 In 2015,
data for the agricultural, shing, hunting, and forestry industries
were merged and had the third highest count and rate of fatal
work injuries.225
In addition to dangerous working conditions and low pay,
laborers in the shing industry also face incidences of unpaid
wages with no clarity about who to make complaints to.226
They face layoffs and interruptions to work based on weather
conditions and overshing.227 They also have to work harder,
longer, and further from home to catch the same numbers of
sh because stocks have been depleted and competition has
increased.228 Some workers report additional problems on the
job, such as harassment and concerns for their safety that stem
from their gender or cultural backgrounds.229
Because some laborers in the shing industry are indepen-
dent contractors rather than employees, they face additional
problems.230 They do not receive health or unemployment insur-
ance, nor do they receive sick-leave or vacation days from their
employers.231 They do not always know whether they will be
employed through the season, and they do not know how much
work they will have from season to season.232
Though we are not focusing on the aquaculture segment of
the shing industry, it is useful to note some of the particular
safety concerns those workers face. These include heavy metal
toxins, such as lead and mercury and acute toxicity that may
result from copper sulte used as algicide, net or wood preser-
vatives, or copper pipes.233 Additional concerns include closed-
loop, indoor, water-recirculating production systems; harmful
algal blooms in marine environments, which can cause paralytic,
neurologic, amnesic, and diarrhetic shellsh poisonings and
ciguatera sh poisoning; bacteria (such as Mycobacterium mari-
num and Streptococcus iniae) and nematode, cestode, trematode,
and protozoan parasites found in sh that cause human infec-
tions; and infections, such as the shellsh origin of Norwalk
virus infection.234
b. legal protectionS
Policy and regulatory approaches can address dangerous
working conditions to ensure the protection of the workers who
are not in positions to protect themselves. However, the shing
industry has fewer health and safety regulations than most might
assume along with a tangled web of oversight that leaves signi-
cant room for confusion and lack of enforcement.235
Some legal protections do exist. These include state or
federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
regulations;236 Labor Department rules (including the Fair Labor
Standards Act of 1938, as Amended);237 and the Merchant
Marine Act of 1920, (the Jones Act), which allows injured
people to make claims.238 For certain problems, state criminal
laws or regulatory protections might apply, and in some cases,
transportation rules could also be helpful.
Agencies with enforcement authority for issues relating
to workers in the shing industry include: OSHA, through the
Department of Labor; the Coast Guard via the U.S. Armed
Forces; U.S. Department of Homeland Security in peacetime;
U.S. Department of Navy in wartime; and the local police when
state or local criminal offenses are involved. Other agencies have
oversight of non-worker related aspects of the shing industry,
such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) via the Department of Commerce; the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS) via the Department of Interior; and the
Fall 2017
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) via the Department
of Commerce. There may be additional regulations from these
agencies that workers can rely on if their employers fail to fol-
low applicable rules.
Health and safety standards for workers are set by OSHA
or delegated to state authority when plans have been approved
by OSHA.239 Twenty-two states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin
Islands have OSHA-approved state plans.240 These plans are
required to be at least as effective as federal OSHA standards
and may go further than the federal guidelines.241 States may
adopt their own standards and enforcement policies, though
most have adopted standards that are identical to the federal
OSHA standards.242 OSHA has foreign language guidance that
mandates safety instructions be offered in different languages
where applicable—some states have created versions of these
as well.243
OSHA does not address shing in a separate sub-part of the
regulations, so it is only covered by the general duty clause,244
the general industry,245 and the agricultural sections (which may
potentially apply to aquaculture operations).246 There are ship-
yard and marine terminal standards as well.247 These sections
that include specic standards need to apply the general duty
clause where those specic standards are silent.
OSHA generally addresses some of the issues shers may
face including: noise; ventilation; air quality; equipment and
protective gear; emergency action plans; work surfaces; lad-
ders; stairways; workplace hazards; and medical and rst aid.248
However, some of the guidelines are not helpful for workers
on shing boats where surfaces are routinely slippery, and air
quality cannot be improved by proper ventilation or temperature
regulation. The commercial diving and logging industries have
their own sub-parts to address industry specic concerns.249 The
shing industry does not, and it should. The Coast Guard also
implements some safety regulations through the Department of
Homeland Security.250 The Coast Guard published a notice of
rulemaking in 2016 to align its work with recent legislation.251
Congress passed the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967
(enacted in 1971),252 which sounds like it should protect the
safety of shers, but it focuses on vessel rights, compensation
for seizure, and other economic aspects of the trade.253 The
largest work of Congress is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery
Conservation and Management Act, which relates to and regu-
lates the heath and use of sheries, but not the health of the work-
ers.254 Congress is currently working on the Honest Fishermen
Act of 2017 for consumer protection and product traceability.255
Even when there are stories in the news about safety issues fac-
ing shers, they often neglect U.S. workers.256 Reports about
the shing industry from those tasked with protecting it give
short shrift to worker safety issues.257 The Center for Disease
Control (CDC) developed a manual called, Safety Training for
Fishermen.258 They have also, through the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), made recommenda-
tions in order to reduce risks.259 But it is unclear how many
shers have access to this material from their employers or how
many employers are in compliance with the recommendations
and requirements.260 NOAA has a specic safety program for its
observers, who are increasingly at risk when doing their jobs.261
c. potential reformS
Some relatively simple regulatory reform is possible.
OSHA could adopt a specic set of guidelines that apply to the
shing industry. Given the differences between shing for trout,
salmon, lobster, crabs, shrimp—to name a few—this would be
a signicant undertaking. But it would be worth the effort to
protect workers from the poor conditions they have in common,
and it could leave room for some additional regulatory require-
ments that relate to specic segments of the industry. In addi-
tion to looking at other industry specic models for this type of
regulation, OSHA could also look to the United Kingdom and
the European Union for examples of their regulations in place to
protect workers.262
In addition to new regulations, attention must be paid to
enforcement of the regulations that currently exist and to remov-
ing barriers facing workers who wish to exercise their rights.
More resources need to be spent in enforcement and more clar-
ity is required in informing workers of their rights and assisting
them in exercising those rights. Legal and health services should
be more readily available for workers in terms of affordability
and numbers of service providers.
Consumer awareness campaigns could be effective tools
to educate workers about harms, ways to protect themselves
from harm, and remedies available after harm occurs. One
driver of change is information, which is greatly needed in
this sector to understand and assess current realities and to
inform efforts to improve the industry. The FAO has made this
one of its focal points.263 It has also produced reports that are
helpful to understand the problems faced by shers in devel-
oping countries.264
VI. addItIonal Issues beyond the scoPe
oF thIs artIcle
There are of course signicant environmental concerns
related to both capture and aquaculture sheries with regard to
their impacts and their inputs.265 Though addressing environ-
mental and environmental justice impacts is beyond the scope of
this article, it is important to note, and to indicate that there are
differing approaches to the conversation as well as some impor-
tant controversies to consider.266
Tribal issues also complicate and inform conversations
about shing.267 Tribal treaty rights need to be recognized and
supported because they are relevant in terms of competition
for scarce resources.268 Tribal shing also tends to offer alter-
native methodologies and concepts of sustainability that may
offer more protection for shers, the ecosystem, and the sh
themselves.269 Another issue that is very important but beyond
the scope of this paper is the impact of poverty on food secu-
rity and the impact of related decision-making on the use of
sheries—both capture and aquaculture.270 It is also crucial to
be mindful of how these conversations and policymaking deci-
sions both impact and exclude native people, foreign workers,
38 Sustainable Development Law & Policy
and gender issues so that these problems can be alleviated.
Doing so, we believe, will inure to the benet of people, ani-
mals, and the environment.
VII. conclusIon
Much work needs to be done to protect workers and
aquatic animals from the harms resulting from the fish-
ing industry. Legal, health, and social education as well as
increased legal regulation will help alleviate the problems
discussed in this article. More far-reaching solutions are also
possible. Alternatives to the use of aquatic animals as food for
humans or feed for other animals, or for industrial uses are
possible. Increased venture capital funding would spur and
hasten development of these alternatives, which would pro-
tect humans, animals, and the environment. In the meantime,
outdated capture and aquaculture methods can be replaced by
new technologies that are safer for people and less harmful to
aquatic animals. The law plays an important role in responding
to and preventing harms. The shing industry is an area that is
in dire need of the attention of legal reformers.
See generally Ocean Animal Encyclopedia, oceana,
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animals, indexed by type); Classifying Marine Organisms, Sci. learning hub,
(last visited Dec. 20, 2017) (explaining the classication of aquatic animals and
See generally Basic Questions About Aquaculture, noaa fiSherieS, http:// (last visited Dec.
20, 2017) (explaining U.S. aquaculture); Imperiled Species, fiSh & aquatic
conServation,sheries/nfhs/imperiled_species.html (last
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imperiled sh, and more); Cultured Aquatic Species, FAO,
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See Whaling, intl whaling commn, (last visited
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See International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, intl whal-
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See James Rogers, Gruesome pic shows mass slaughter of
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Whaling, a 1,000-Year Tradition Comes Under Renewed Fire, natl
geographic (Sept. 12, 2014),
See Jo Marie V. Acebes, Historical whaling in the Philippines: origins of
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(Oct. 2009),
See the l. blog, https://lawngo.
jpg (last visited Dec. 20, 2017).
See generally Sara Mynott, Why Whaling? Why Save The Whale?, nature
(July 9, 2013),
why_whaling_why_save_the (noting the impact of whales as a food source
on other marine life); Leighton Walter Kille, Impact of Whaling on the Ocean
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cycle (highlighting the positive impact whales have on the carbon cycle); Brian
Clark Howard, More Big Whales in Ocean Could Mean More Fish, Scientists
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(explaining whales’ role in a healthy marine ecosystem); Lee Dye, How Whale
Hunting Changed the Ocean, ABC newS (Sept. 25 2003), http://abcnews. (describing where whales are positioned
on the sustainable marine food chain).
See Tim Huntington & Mohammad R. Hasan, Fish as Feed Inputs for
Aquaculture – Practices, Sustainability and Implications: A Global Synthesis 11
(FAO Fisheries & Aquaculture Tech. Paper No. 518, 2009),
docrep/012/i1140e/i1140e.pdf; Utilization and Trade, FAO,
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continued on page 56