About a month ago, I watched a video that documented the reunion of a Burmese fisherman and his family after he had been forced into seafood slavery 22 years prior.
Myint Nang left his home in 1993 in search of decent wages in Thailand. At just 18 years old, he was the head of the household, having lost his father to the fishing industry three years before.
Once he was over the border and finally on a fishing boat where he hoped to make enough money to send home to his family, Myint reports that the captain of the Thai fishing boat said, “You Burmese are never going home. You were sold, and no one is ever coming to rescue you,” according to the Associated Press.
The workers onboard were beaten, starved and shackled. Once back on land, Myint escaped into the Indonesian jungle, like many before him. He worked for five years as a farm laborer. But he missed his family so much, he went back to fishing with a promise from a captain that he would return Burmese fishermen to their home country in exchange for work. Another promise broken. Myint made another narrow escape.
Years later, a friend told him that an AP report on seafood slavery had spurred the Indonesian government to repatriate former slaves that had escaped to the nation’s islands. To date, more than 800 former slaves have been returned to their homelands.
I hope all of our readers have been following the stories on slave labor in the seafood industry. There was a time that I thought eating wild U.S. seafood relieved me of culpability in this disgusting business. But the chances are that most of us buy products from the illegal seafood trade.
According to yesterday’s New York Times article, “the United States is the biggest customer of Thai fish, and pet food is among the fastest growing exports from Thailand, more than doubling since 2009 and last year totaling more than $190 million. The average pet cat in the United States eats 30 pounds of fish per year, about double that of a typical American.”
That’s right, our pets eat more seafood than we do.
We’ve recently made strides toward preventing illegal fishing off and near our shores. But we have to demand more oversight of seafood imports. We can help solve this problem, not just by serving as good examples of sustainable and relatively safe fisheries but by leaning on the Thai government to oversee its industry or risk trade with American companies.