Labour abuses, including modern slavery, are ‘hidden subsidies’ that allow distant-water fishing fleets to remain profitable and promote overfishing, new research from the University of Western Australia and the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia has found.
By combining fisheries data from the Sea Around Us initiative at UBC with country-level data on modern slavery, the researchers found that countries whose fleets rely heavily on government subsidies, fish far away from home ports, and fail to comprehensively report their actual catch, tend to fish beyond sustainable limits and are at higher risk of labour abuses.
“While domestically the average slavery risk in the United States is low, the U.S. accounts for about 14 per cent of global seafood imports and those imports have a slavery risk 17 times higher than fish caught by U.S. fleets domestically,” said co-author Dirk Zeller, leader of the Sea Around Us – Indian Ocean initiative at UWA.
Once imported seafood is combined in local markets with U.S.-fleet caught fish, “the seafood available to domestic consumers in the U.S. becomes eight times more likely to have been produced or processed with modern slavery.
“This would place increased responsibility on the large seafood corporations that can often best influence supplier behaviour and who, maybe without even knowing it, are currently profiting from modern slavery,” said Fiona David, director of research for the Walk Free Foundation, the architects of the Global Slavery Index.