Nine Massive Fisheries Just Pledged to Combat Overfishing and Slave Labour

The world may be burning, but there's still some hope for our oceans.

by Alex Swerdloff
13 June 2017, 5:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Vincent-Lin

Less than two weeks ago, President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement, and, like many others, you may have thought that the move was basically the nail in the coffin for any hope of battling global warming—at least before Peter Thiel ditches us plebes and finally picks up the mantle as New Zealand's supreme viceroy.

Well, you were probably right. But here's a glimmer of hope, at least with respect to the future of our oceans, which is pretty nice when you consider we'll all soon be living out the plot of Waterworld. A group of the world's largest fishing companies have agreed to an initiative that would prevent overfishing and would crack down on several illegal practices, including the use of slave labour in fishing.

The agreement was announced at the UN Ocean Conference held in New York last week, and is known as the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship initiative. The companies represent some of the largest seafood companies in Asia, Europe, and the US, and they have each agreed to a ten-point statement.

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Among the sustainability measures in the agreement are a commitment to reducing illegal fishing, to eliminating antibiotic use in aquaculture, and to dealing with plastic pollution in the oceans. What's more, the businesses say they are committed to eliminating products in their supply chains that may have come from "modern slavery including forced, bonded, and child labour." The use of slave labour in the fishing industry—especially in harvesting and preparing shrimp—came to light over a year ago thanks to several AP investigations that focused on the problem.

The agreement was signed by several big players, including the world's two largest fishing companies by revenues, the two largest tuna companies, the two largest salmon farmers, and the two largest aquafeed companies. The initiative follows a dialogue set up by the Stockholm Resilience Centre late last year, which connected wild capture fisheries, aquaculture businesses, global seafood businesses, and scientists around the world. The nine companies that have signed the accord make up one-third of the top 100 seafood companies. The companies pledged "to work actively together with governments to improve existing regulations for fisheries, for aquaculture, and for the ocean."

Sure, a private agreement among for-profit companies regarding fishing is no substitute for membership by the world's largest historic polluter in an international convention dealing with climate change. But it's something—and it's what we've got.