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Fishermen oversight bill passes committee

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Hawaii lawmakers are calling for more oversight of the commercial fishing industry after an Associated Press investigation found hundreds of foreign men living in subpar conditions and confined to boats. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Ericson Padilla right, checks the documents of an Indonesian fisherman from an American fishing vessel docked in Honolulu.

Hawaii lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday calling for more oversight of the commercial fishing industry after an Associated Press investigation found hundreds of foreign fishermen confined to boats and some living in subpar conditions.

A legislative committee passed the bill, which will require fishing boat owners who want a commercial license in Hawaii to provide state officials with a copy of employment contracts held with every fisherman on board before the license is granted.

Without those contracts there’s no way for state officials to check whether fishermen are getting what they were promised or whether an investigation should be launched about possible human trafficking, said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the proposal.

“I think we’ve learned through decades of democracy that industry self-policing doesn’t usually work,” Ing said.

The bill passed the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs on Tuesday, and it goes next to the Judiciary Committee.

Ing’s proposal calls for keeping records of employment contracts with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which issues fishing licenses.

Representatives from the commercial fishing industry opposed the bill, saying the industry is already highly regulated by the federal government. The industry also initiated a universal contract to be signed by crew members and boat owners, and every active boat in the fleet that has landed has returned those contracts, said John Kaneko of the Hawaii Seafood Council.

The bill, which only applies to migrant workers, doesn’t include anything about spot audits or who’s going to enforce the contracts, Ing said.

“We went so soft with this,” Ing said. “We’re not interfering with the contract. … We’re not even setting minimum labor standards. We’re just saying whatever you’ve agreed to, even if it’s horrendous, we just want to see to be sure that that’s being met. That’s it.”

“People agree to horrendous things all day long in contracts,” said Jim Cook of the Hawaii Longline Association. “What makes you think it’s the purview of the state of Hawaii to get into the business between an individual and a company?”

Contracts with foreign fishermen are not necessarily as straightforward as a contract between a boat captain and a fisherman. Often the boat captain contracts with an international broker to provide workers, and the broker has a separate employment contract with those workers, often executed overseas.

“The meat of the contract — their working conditions, when they get paid — is all in that agency contract, but there’s no records of that here,” Ing said.

Bruce Anderson, administrator for the Division of Aquatic Resources — the office within the Department of Land and Natural Resources that issues commercial fishing licenses — said he was concerned about the process laid out in the bill.

“For fishermen to come into our office and for our staff to inspect a contract is way beyond what we’re in a position to do,” Anderson said. “We wouldn’t know if the contract was legitimate or not. We wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

The AP investigation found around 140 fishing boats based in Honolulu were crewed by hundreds of men from impoverished Southeast Asia and Pacific island nations. The seafood is sold at markets and upscale restaurants across the U.S.

8 responses to “Fishermen oversight bill passes committee”

  1. peanutgallery says:

    What an absolute waste of taxpayer money and time.

    • GONEGOLFIN says:

      You are obviously unaware of the inhumane ways these people have been treated. The system is totally broken and for you to make a comment like that is a total waste of my time as you are obviously ignorant of what is happening.

  2. reamesr1 says:

    1 comment on this story is a travesty. People making their living fishing should be up in arms about this. These commercial boats are taking money out of the hands of local fisherman. I would have expected more opposition by local fishermen on this whole issue of foreign workers and how they are supposed to get a incense without stepping foot on US soil. SHAME SHAME SHAME.

  3. willman says:

    Ridiculous law introduced by a very suspect one term legislator. Big waste of tax dollars.

  4. Sandybeach says:

    Shame on State… they are running a floating prison system that allows the long line fishermen to exploit illegally trafficked human labor. What kind of government would refuse to end human trafficking. A corrupt, uncaring and operation that illegal that has been condemned by the US and state legislature. The people know what Jim Cook and Bruce Anderson are up to. Does the state legislature have the courage to go forward and correct these illegal activities. I hope they do. Thanks to Representative Kaniela Ing committee we are now moving forward to correct what AP calls floating prisons. Senator Carl Rhoads and Mike Gabbard are doing the in their committee. This practice of industry and government regulator in the say bed must stop. Thanks to the Hawaii State legislature for trying to change the national embarrassment and illegal activity. AP has told the citizen what is happening. We want favors, corruption and illegal activity to stop. Stop human trafficking…it is a disgust and horrific practice of exploitation and greed of poorly educated group of many victim. Power will not concede unless we make demand for justice. Fredrick Douglas spoke of that a part of the human struggle against hatred and bigotry. Making this a law… stop slavery and Hawaiians will take those jobs for a decent wage.

    • fiveo says:

      Absolutely right. Oversight is needed. If these fishermen were not based here in the US or any of its territories , we would not have a need to provide oversight but as it is they are on boats working out of our harbors so it does become our responsibility to insure that our laws governing health and safety of their workers and their
      treatment becomes our responsibility to oversee. The statement by Jim Cook of the Hawaii Longline Association is truly revealing.
      Kind of reminds me of the good old days when the Big Five ruled over Hawaii and were able to exploit and abuse their indentured agricultural workers on
      the sugar and pine apple plantations and the treatment of workers varied from plantation to plantation depending on the largesse of who was the plantation manager. The idea that the state has no business in interfering with their operation and should continue to turn a blind eye
      to the very likely exploitation of these fishermen as reported by the Associated Press report goes contrary to what is right.

    • GONEGOLFIN says:

      Agree! Somebody please illuminate PeanutGallery of what is happening. Better yet, somebody hire PG and throw him on one of these ships for a couple weeks.

  5. Paco3185 says:

    This is a problem created by our late senator and needs to be resolved by our current ones assuming they are capable of doing so. Our state legislature is just grandstanding and knows there is very little they can do about this other than shut thus industry down. They will do this by making it impossible for the DLNR to issue licenses forcing these boats to pack up and find a new home.

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