November 2020

Modern Slavery and the Race to Fish

Today I learned: about 32% of wild-caught fish that is eventually sold in the US is illegally caught. Because of how fish are caught, and then distributed, it is really hard to track which shipments come from ships/fishery sectors that abuse their labor force. Additionally, labor accounts for 30–50% of fishing costs and many fishing sectors are seeing falling profit returns, prompting many countries to cut costs and resort to unethical conditions to make a profit. A group of researchers from Canada and Australia looked at a few different metrics to try and identify which countries were more likely to have poor worker conditions. The authors found that a country’s Global Slavery Index (GSI), the percent of unreported fish caught, the value of the fish caught, and the amount of distant-water fishing best predicted the countries that had modern slavery in the fishing industry. While an obvious step to reduce the unethical conditions includes more oversight on the ships themselves, more research has to be done to understand how the current problems affect fisheries policy.

Diagram showing that the more that the US, Western European, and Scandinavian countries import fish from high slavery-risk countries, the more likely that the domestic supply contains illegally caught fish

River plots showing that when the US (left) and Western European and Scandinavian countries (right) import fish from high slavery risk countries (yellow, orange, and red), the domestic supply contains fish caught under unethical conditions. (Figure adapted from Tickler et al.)

Reference: Tickler, David, et al. “Modern Slavery and the Race to Fish.” Nature Communications, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07118-9.