To the Members of the National Ocean Council Committee on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud (NOC Committee):
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule on establishing filing and recordkeeping procedures relating to importation of certain fish and fish products. As a coalition of non-profit organizations and advocacy groups dedicated to the eradication of all forms of modern-day slavery and worker exploitation, including human trafficking, in the seafood industry we have a strong interest in the establishment of more robust, effective traceability mechanisms.
The following comments address the request for input issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regarding the proposed rule on a seafood import monitoring program.
The Presidential Task Force on Combatting IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud (Task Force) identifies in its Action Plan for Implementing the Task Force Recommendations (Action Plan) several “factors that contribute to the unfair advantage that IUU fishing has over fishers who follow the rules and operate under the true costs of sustainable fishing practices." A significant factor that the Task Force acknowledges, and that we believe must be addressed in the seafood import monitoring program if the President’s Comprehensive Framework is to be effectively implemented, is that “operators of IUU fishing vessels also tend to deny to crew members fundamental rights concerning the terms and conditions of their labor."
Though neither human trafficking nor forced labor on fishing vessels are included explicitly in the mandate of the NOC Committee, we believe Congress has instructed the Committee through its amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to take these human rights abuses into consideration when designing and implementing a seafood import monitoring program. Section 307(1)(Q) of the MSA, which the proposed rule is intended to implement, states, “It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any fish taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any foreign law or regulation or any treaty or in contravention of any binding conservation measure adopted by an international agreement or organization to which the United States is a party” (emphasis added). The 2015 amendment to Section 307(1)(Q) inserted the last clause, “or any treaty or in contravention of any binding conservation measure adopted by an international agreement or organization to which the United States is a party,” to the original language of the Act.
The legislative history of the amendment suggests that Congress expected all rules and programs designed to implement the amendment would address the myriad national security risks associated with IUU fishing, most notably human trafficking and slave labor. The House of Representatives, in its Report on the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, emphasized, “Especially given that 91 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, it is critical to ensure that the purchases of unsuspecting Americans are not supporting these activities.” These activities, which are prohibited under international law as well as the laws of every country, are common on fishing vessels. The 2015 Trafficking in Person (TIP) Report identified 54 countries with instances of human trafficking in their fishing fleets.
If the NMFS intends to implement Section 307(1)(Q) through the design and implementation of the seafood import monitoring program, it is essential that it consider the various treaties related to human trafficking and slave labor to which the United States is a party. These treaties include the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; the 1926 Slavery Convention; and the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. The MSA as amended requires the U.S. government to prohibit the importation of any fish taken or possessed in violation of any treaty to which the United States is a party. The treaties noted above prohibit labor trafficking and slave labor which, as Congress recognized, and we previously stressed, are inextricably linked to illegally caught fish that enter into U.S. commerce.
It would be a grave oversight for the NMFS to not consider these human rights and national security issues when designing a program to eliminate illegal fish and seafood products from the U.S. market. While we understand the need to balance legal requirements with business considerations, the NMFS will not be able to eliminate illegal fish and seafood products from U.S. commerce without addressing human trafficking and forced labor in the final rule. Indeed, Congress recognized the connection between these problems and expected the NMFS and other U.S. government agencies to design and implement rules and programs aimed at simultaneously eliminating illegal fish from entering into the U.S. market while ensuring the purchases of American consumers do not support human trafficking and forced labor in the seafood industry. To this end, we strongly urge the NMFS to fulfill its obligation and address human trafficking and forced labor when designing and implementing the seafood import monitoring program...