Hawaii board de­nies rule changes for for­eign fish­er­men

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Caleb Jones

HONOLULU>> 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.

“It was pre­dicted but it’s nev­er­the­less dis­ap­point­ing,” said pe­ti­tioner Kathryn Xian, who runs the non­profit Pa­cific Al­liance to Stop Slav­ery. “The DLNR has re­ally shirked its re­spon­si­bil­ity in do­ing an easy fix,”

De­part­ment of­fi­cials had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the rul­ing, but Den­ni­son said they would try to re­spond to re­quests later in the day.

Over six months, the AP ob­tained con­fi­den­tial con­tracts, re­viewed dozens of busi­ness records and in­ter­viewed boat own­ers, bro­kers and more than 50 fish­er­men in Hawaii, In­done­sia and San Fran­cisco. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found men liv­ing in squalor on some boats, forced to use buck­ets in­stead of toi­lets, suf­fer­ing run­ning sores from bed bugs and some­times lack­ing suf­fi­cient food.

It also re­vealed in­stances of hu­man traf­fick­ing. The re­port was part of the AP’s on­go­ing global look at la­bor abuses in the fish­ing in­dus­try, stretch­ing from South­east Asia to Amer­ica’s own wa­ters.

The pe­ti­tion in Hawaii also re­quested that the per­son trans­lat­ing the doc­u­ments be iden­ti­fied, that ap­pli­cants pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion for their el­i­gi­bil­ity to en­ter the United States, and that ves­sels pro­vide a list of all li­censees un­der their com­mand.

In a doc­u­ment signed by Bruce An­der­son, the ad­min­is­tra­tor for the de­part­ment that is­sues fish­ing li­censes, a rec­om­men­da­tion was made to deny the rule changes be­cause the pe­ti­tion fo­cused on la­bor is­sues that are out­side the de­part­ment’s ju­ris­dic­tion.

“We be­lieve that a re­quire­ment that the ap­pli­cant cer­tify that he or she un­der­stands the ap­pli­ca­tion ... is un­nec­es­sary,” the doc­u­ment said.

An­der­son said Thurs­day the agency is con­cerned about re­cent me­dia re­ports re­gard­ing work­ing con­di­tions on fish­ing ves­sels but its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties cur­rently in­volve en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing rules.

State and fed­eral law­mak­ers promised to im­prove con­di­tions for the for­eign crews, and at least one com­pany stopped buy­ing fish from the boats im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion. In a press re­lease in Septem­ber, Suzanne Case, chair the De­part­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources, said “we are cer­tainly very con­cerned about any hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions that are re­port­edly oc­cur­ring on the long­line fish­ing fleet, and stand ready to as­sist in any way pos­si­ble.”

Lance Collins, a Honolulu at­tor­ney who ar­gued in fa­vor of the changes at Fri­day’s meet­ing, said in pre­pared tes­ti­mony given to AP in ad­vance that An­der­son mis­char­ac­ter­izes the re­quested rule changes. “Upon re­view­ing the Pe­ti­tion, I my­self am un­able to find any ‘la­bor is­sue’ di­rectly ad­dressed in the pro­posed changes.”

“The Pa­cific Al­liance to Stop Slav­ery rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of a vi­brant econ­omy and fully sup­ports Hawaii’s fish­ing in­dus­try, but rec­og­nizes strongly that sig­nif­i­cant steps must be made to re­form state li­cens­ing rules,” Xian said in her tes­ti­mony.


A man un­loads fish from the U.S. fish­ing ves­sel, the Sea Dragon, at Pier 38 in Honolulu. On Fri­day, a Hawaii state agency is con­sid­er­ing a pe­ti­tion to change rules for com­mer­cial fish­ing li­censes given to un­doc­u­mented for­eign fish­er­men. A fed­eral loop­hole al­lows the for­eign men to work but ex­empts them from most ba­sic la­bor pro­tec­tions.

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