There is no question that we love sushi in the U.S., but what most people don’t realize is that their spicy tuna roll addiction has serious consequences. About 90 percent of our seafood comes from Thailand’s billion-dollar fishing industry, unfortunately, the practices used to supply our annual demands of 4.8 billion pounds of fish are not only destroying our oceans, they’re also harming people.
Thailand is the third largest seafood exporter in the world and quickly becoming one of the most overfished regions on the planet. It is estimated that around 80 percent of global fish stocks are “fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse.” Dwindling fish stocks and increased demand for seafood in the Gulf of Thailand and Adaman Sea have sent Thai fisheries all the way to the borders of Asia and Africa, utilizing illegal vessels and trawl nets to continue to meet export quotas. Unfortunately, with this, human trafficking and child labor have also increased on illegal vessels.
The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) estimates that 33 percent of seafood workers in Thailand’s principal processing have been trafficked and 57 percent have experienced forced labor. Given the fact that 80 percent of the 145,000 people working in the Thai fishing industry are migrant workers, human rights violations run rampant. And all of this is going on to the complete ignorance of U.S. consumers. Or, at least, it was until now.
President Obama recently signed a bill which closed an 85-year-old loophole to ban the import of fish caught by slave labor and prohibit foreign vessels from entering ports if suspected of illegal fishing. According to The Guardian, in the past, U.S. customs laws which banned imports produced by forced or child labor were ignored due to “consumptive demand.” Basically, this means that imports were allowed if there was not sufficient supply to meet domestic demand under the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930. Thankfully, this is finally coming to an end with this new legislation. Furthermore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will require new reporting regulations for U.S. companies, in order to gain a better understand where imports are sourced. With this new legislation, there is hope that the destruction of our oceans and gross human abuse will no longer be tolerated by the U.S. government.
We have a duty to our oceans and fellow humans to think critically about the impact of our food choices. While this legislation is a starting point, we can all play a part in reducing the damage by cutting back – if not eliminating – our consumption of seafood. By leaving fish off the menu, you can save over 225 fish a year and ensure that you’re not supporting an industry that is harming both humans and marine animals.
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