Tip of the Iceberg: Challenges and Policy Solutions in the Seafood Supply Chain

The Accountability Research Center at American University held a panel discussion on March 1st, 2024. The open forum titled “From Expos√© to Policy Solutions in Seafood Supply Chain,” shared discussion in a group of experts shed light on the intricacies of the seafood industry, focusing mainly on the challenges faced in the supply chain and the urgent need for policy solutions.

Steve Sapienza of the Pulitzer Center set the stage by introducing the audience to the gripping documentary “Squid Fleet” from The Outlaw Ocean Project, which delves into the harsh realities endured by fishers on the Chinese fleet.

The film poignantly illustrates how human activity damages the environment and exploits precious sea resources. From The Outlaw Ocean Project, Ian Urbina shared insights from the project’s extensive 40-year reporting along the Chinese coast, highlighting the pervasive labor exploitation on Chinese vessels.

Urbina’s revelations underscored the urgent need for action to address these systemic issues.

Judy Gearhart, a lecturer at American University, emphasized the alarming decline in seafood resources coupled with the prevalence of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) practices and human rights abuses within the industry.

She stressed the necessity for international cooperation to regulate the industry and protect workers’ rights. Human Trafficking Legal Center’s Martina Vanderburg emphasized the gaps in the seafood industry’s regulatory framework.

She drew attention to the extraterritorial jurisdictional challenges and proposed various measures, including civil litigation and enhanced transparency, to hold perpetrators accountable and protect vulnerable workers. “Increase transparency at sea and improve and availability to inform,” said Martina.

The United States, being the second-largest market after the E.U., faces challenges in traceability and transparency. Martina highlighted the Maritime SAFE Act in 2020 and the traceability program initiated in 2016 as steps toward preventing illegal and mislabeled seafood from entering the U.S. market.

She stressed the importance of a multifaceted approach, combining regulatory measures with digitization and monitoring.

The discussion further emphasized the critical role of the United States government, the second-largest seafood market globally, in addressing these challenges.

Molly McCoy from the U.S. Department of Labor highlighted the multifaceted approach required to combat labor rights abuses, IUUF, and ensure food security. McCoy outlined existing programs aimed at investigating and reporting on forced labor and child labor in the seafood sector, emphasizing the need for collaboration and international standards.

Molly explained, “It’s challenging seafood industry phase for addressing food security, labor rights abuses, IUUF. The problem is like tip of the iceberg.” She pointed out that long working hours, limited recruitment processes, and power imbalances contribute to abuses at sea.

The U.S. has committed substantial resources to investigate and report on forced labor and child labor within the seafood sector globally.

Key priorities emerged from the discussion, including the need for institutional redesign, enhanced traceability requirements, and greater collaboration across sectors to strengthen the entire seafood supply chain.

The panelists called for increased transparency and accountability to ensure that seafood products reaching consumers are sourced ethically and sustainably. As the panel concluded, it became evident that addressing the complexities of the seafood supply chain requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders, including governments, industry players, civil society organizations, and consumers.

By working together and implementing effective policies and practices in the seafood supply chain, we can build a more sustainable and equitable seafood industry for generations.

Read also : Canada lags behind on efforts to address human rights abuses in seafood supply chains

Read also : International Human Rights Day: Human Rights Violations Behind the Fisheries Industry in Indonesia

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