A Hawaii agency on Friday denied a petition to change state rules for commercial fishing licenses given to undocumented foreign fishermen.

The petition sought changes in the licensing process that included certifying that the applicants understood what they were signing. Many of the foreign fishermen who work in the fleet do not read, write or understand English.

With no legal standing on U.S. soil, the men are at the mercy of their American captains on American-flagged, American-owned vessels. Since they don’t have visas, they are not allowed to set foot on shore, so captains or their agents often prepare their licensing documents for them.

The entire system, which contradicts other state and federal laws, operates with the blessing of high-ranking U.S. lawmakers and officials, an Associated Press investigation published in September found.

A federal loophole allows the foreign men to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections, and some Hawaii residents are concerned that state rules offer little transparency and leave workers in the dark.


Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison confirmed the board’s denial after its meeting on Friday.

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