State and federal lawmakers are promising to improve conditions for hundreds of foreign fishermen working in Hawaii's commercial fleet, and at least one company has already stopped buying fish from the boats following an Associated Press investigation that found the men have been confined to vessels for years without basic labor protections.
Whole Foods halted buying seafood caught by foreign crew until it's clear the men are treated fairly. On Sunday, the Hawaii Seafood Council said that starting Oct. 1, the Honolulu Fish Auction will sell fish only from boats that have adopted a new, standardized contract aimed at assuring no forced labor exists on board.
The AP report found commercial fishing boats in Honolulu were crewed by men from impoverished Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations who catch prized swordfish, ahi tuna and other seafood sold at markets and upscale restaurants across the country. A legal loophole allows them to work on the American-owned, American-flagged boats without visas as long as they don't set foot on shore. The system is facilitated by the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection.