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The soon-to-be-released film Ghost Fleet reveals the deep connections between human trafficking networks and the global seafood market. Lack of traceability and enforcement in the seafood sector makes the commercial fishing industry particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. To examine these links, the Oceans Caucus Foundation hosted a panel of experts on Capitol Hill to discuss Ghost Fleet’s revealing footage and the policy and security implications of global trafficking networks.

By some estimates, today, there are roughly 30 million trafficked persons globally. Trafficking in persons involves the trade of human beings for purposes of exploitation, including for prostitution, forced labor, slavery, and removal of organs. It involves men, women, and children of all ages and impacts the most and least developed countries alike. Those who would propagate these practices are also involved in other forms of illicit trade, including wildlife trafficking, drug trafficking, and illegal fishing.

Framed by a screening of clips from Ghost Fleet, a film produced by Vulcan Productions, this OCF Capitol Hill briefing centered around a discussion of the links between illegal fishing and human trafficking and ways in which the prevalence of both could be reduced. In particular, the film Ghost Fleet serves to uncover one form of human trafficking occurring aboard illegal fishing vessels in Thailand. Barren fisheries have strained the country’s fishing industry and fueled growing instances of slave labor. Expert panelists at the April 25th briefing included the film’s director, Shannon Service; Rama Athreya, Specialist for Labor and Employment Rights at USAID; and Dr. Sarah Glaser, Associate Director at Secure Fisheries.

Discussions pointed to a two-pronged approach to reducing fishing-related trafficking. On one hand, support provided to grassroots organizations can help free trafficked persons, reunite them with their families, and provide legal assistance for restitution from lost wages. On the other hand, holistic attempts at improving the sustainability and traceability of global fisheries must supplement local support.

Given the complexity and global nature of the seafood industry, responsibility for addressing this problem falls on several actors, including employers such as boat owners and captains; enforcement officials; financial intermediaries; policymakers who can strengthen IUU fishing and trafficking governance; and end users of seafood products. Improving traceability and management of supply chains is key.

Illegal fishing is depleting global fisheries, which has devastating impacts on ecosystems. When linked with human trafficking, it is also undermining economic security by depriving local economies legitimate commerce, supporting criminal networks including global terrorist organizations, and facilitating massive human rights abuses. As USAID’s Rama Athreya put it, “we have no choice but to tackle this problem.”

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