Working conditions aboard fishing vessels are among the worst in the world.
At sea, vessels can operate without scrutiny depending on the flag they carry
and whether they operate in areas with limited monitoring, control, surveillance
and enforcement (MSCE) such as the high seas. Workers can encounter a
whole spectrum of issues ranging from extremely low wages, inadequate
sanitation, lack of safety equipment, lack of personal space and long working
hours to documented cases of forced labour, human trafficking and even
murder at sea.
While the issue of labour abuse in the fisheries sector has been known for years it is only recently that it is getting attention from media and consequently from some buyers of seafood associated with documented slavery at sea.
Lack of control and enforcement, at times coupled with low profitability and the resulting race to catch and sell fish, often result in poor labour standards onboard vessels and even in processing and aquaculture facilities on land. The poor state of fish stocks, the fact that many fleets are operating in a state of excess fishing capacity (i.e. overcapacity) and an increasing demand for cheap seafood in turn drive the race for fish, motivating companies to keep vessels at sea for longer and in more dangerous conditions.