As the United Nations Oceans Conferenceconvenes in New York, a new paper calls on marine scientists to focus on human rights violations and other social issues in the seafood industry. Consumer demand for sustainable seafood has led to certification programs and protocols for environmentally sustainable fishing, but guidelines for the treatment of humans who work in fisheries have lagged behind.
Authored by a team of researchers at leading organizations, including Stanford University and Conservation International, the paper is the first integrated approach to meeting this global challenge. It will be presented as part of the UN Oceans Conference and the SeaWeb Seafood Summit, both of which take place June 5-9 in New York and Seattle, respectively.
The article, published today in the journal Science, is in direct response to investigative reports by the Associated Press, the Guardian, the New York Times and other media outlets that uncovered glaring human rights violations on fishing vessels. The investigations tracked the widespread use of slave labor in Southeast Asia and its role in bringing seafood to American restaurants and supermarkets, chronicling the plight of fishermen tricked and trapped into working 22-hour days, often without pay and while enduring abuse. Subsequent investigations have documented the global extent of these abuses in a wide array of countries.
“We need to expand the way we think about the social dimensions of fisheries and aquaculture in sustainable seafood certification schemes and improvement projects,” said Fiorenza Micheli, co-director of Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions. “We developed this framework for social responsibility in the seafood sector to help address issues of equity, access and distribution of rights, food security and nutrition that are particularly critical to developing countries.”
The paper identifies three key principles that together establish a global standard for social responsibility in the seafood sector: protecting human rights, dignity and respecting access to resources; ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit; and improving food and livelihood security.
As part of the initiative, Conservation International has organized a volunteer commitment, calling on governments, NGOs, businesses and other organizations to improve social responsibility in the seafood sector. For a list of organizations that have already committed to this call to action, visit: https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/?id=15143.
“This is a watershed moment for social issues in fisheries,” said Larry Crowder, science director at the Center for Ocean Solutions and professor at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. “We are hoping to shift the discussion beyond environmental sustainability to social sustainability in the seafood industry. We think that consumers want to know not only that fish are harvested sustainably but that they are fished in a way that respects human rights.”
Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. By 2030, the oceans will need to supply more than 150 million metric tons of seafood to meet the demands of a growing population. The paper calls on governments, businesses and the scientific community to take measurable steps to ensure seafood is sourced without harm to the environment and people that work in the seafood industry.