Shark Conservation Alleviates Poverty
In the past 50 years, global shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70%. The drop is largely due to the high demand for shark fin soup and medicinal shark products. Shark hunting provides a major source of income for people around the world, especially in places like West Africa where dwindling fish populations limit other fishing opportunities. However, shark hunting poses a threat to humans and aquatic ecosystems by causing imbalances in the food chain. Shark conservation alleviates poverty by preserving marine ecosystems that people rely on for food, medicine and income.

Socioeconomic Impacts

Shark and ray products play significant roles in West African economies, particularly when it comes to trade. Fishermen kill more than 100 million sharks every year. In West Africa, fishermen commonly pursue shark hunting because commercial fish populations are becoming scarce. The loss of sharks further disrupts the food chain by limiting the number of apex predators. As a result, big fish consume smaller fish that might otherwise be the targets of commercial fishermen.

Shark products are expensive, high-protein alternatives to traditional fish, but diminishing shark populations has greater ecological implications. In the long term, many ecosystems will not be able to survive without sharks, causing the communities that rely on those ecosystems to suffer. Therefore, shark conservation can alleviate poverty by maintaining a steady food supply chain for communities around the world.

Local Shark Monitoring and Management Versus Legislation

In Liberia, more than 30,000 people rely on fishing as a main source of income. Fish also account for about two-thirds of the country’s animal protein consumption. Therefore, preserving aquatic ecosystems, in part by protecting sharks, is essential to Liberia’s economy and health. Methods of shark conservation include shark monitoring and sustainable fishing management.

The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority started an initiative in 2019 to monitor and collect data on fishing and shark populations in Liberia. A 2014 pledge that Liberia made with 12 other West African nations to conserve shark and ray populations inspired the initiative. According to a trial program, Liberian waters are home to 19 shark species that all fall under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. Critics of the initiative worry that data collection will not be enough to preserve shark populations. Legislative action may be necessary to make a lasting impact on shark conservation.

Recent Efforts in Shark Conservation

A group of representatives from 12 West African countries held a workshop in Senegal in 2017 to discuss the implementation of international trade regulations to protect sharks and rays. The 2016 listing of endangered shark species from Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) inspired the workshop. An Appendix II listing dictates that shark products from the selected species undergo legal and sustainable trade, without damage to wild shark populations. The Senegalese government led the workshop alongside Humane Society International and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Environmental officials, experts and fisheries also partook in the conversation. Following the 17th CITES conference in September 2016, eight West African countries co-sponsored at least one of the proposals to protect sharks and rays.

Conservation To Save Lives

Sharks play a vital role in West Africa’s ecosystems, economies and societies. Unsustainable shark hunting can severely disrupt marine life and food supply chains, which humans and animals rely on to survive. Shark conservation can alleviate poverty by preserving aquatic ecosystems and the natural resources they have to offer.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Pxfuel

Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia
Aquaculture is a unique practice comprising the farming of aquatic animals and plants to produce food and assist endangered species. Aquaculture is currently the fastest-growing tool of global food production. It creates job opportunities for Asian women and releases fewer carbon emissions than beef and pork agriculture. Aquaculture is viewed as a sustainable solution to the overexploitation of fish species such as tuna, which are overfished for human consumption. However, in an effort to meet the rapidly growing demand for seafood around the world, the current system of aquaculture is actually decreasing The Gambia’s food security. Since feeding farmed fish leads to overexploitation of different, smaller fish species, the solution to fixing fishmeal factories in The Gambia is underway.

Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia

Fish farmed for human consumption, such as tuna, tilapia and salmon are fed a protein-rich powder supplement called fishmeal. About 25% of all wild fish caught globally end up as fishmeal. Bonga and sardinella fish, herbaceous species that Africans depend on for 50%-70% of their protein, are the primary constituents of fishmeal. Foreign-owned fishmeal factories in The Gambia capture large quantities of bonga and sardinella fish to cook and grind into the coarse golden powder known as fishmeal.

China is currently the world’s largest producer of farmed fish, supplying the U.S. with the majority of its seafood. More than 50 foreign-owned fishmeal factories currently exist along Africa’s coast in The Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. China owns the vast majority of these factories. One factory alone can produce an average of 600,000 kg of fishmeal per day, requiring 7,500 tons of fish per year.

The United States, Asia, China and Europe all import fishmeal from The Gambia. This high reliance on trade hurts the locals, who depend on this fish as a source of food and income. As a result, some have called the industry’s fish-in, fish-out ratio (FIFO) – the total weight of forage fish compared to the total produced mass of farmed fish – unsustainable.

Effect on Food Security and Livelihoods

Fishmeal factories in The Gambia are developing a monopoly on bonga and sardinella fish. Local fishermen are unable to compete with commercial fishing vessels and therefore return to shore with fewer and fewer catches. The women who buy fish to dry and sell are likewise receiving less supply. Younger fishermen have also refused to sell women their products as fishmeal factories can pay in advance and buy fish in bulk.

Fishmeal factories in The Gambia are taking away the food security of African fish traders. Moreover, herbaceous fish support incredible biodiversity. With over-fishing, extinction can destabilize the entire marine ecosystem. Populations of larger fish species, on which Gambians also depend for sustenance, may then begin to collapse as well. As aquaculture businesses in developed nations are destabilizing The Gambia’s food security, they simultaneously profit from overexploitation.

Impact on Tourism

The Gambia’s tourism industry accounts for the majority of its employment opportunities and foreign exchange profit. Water pollution, smoke emissions and the acrid stench of rotting meat which the fishmeal factories in The Gambia emit are already affecting the industry. Coastal areas in The Gambia tend to attract tourists with recreational activities and ecotourism. Overfishing can decrease the biodiversity of Africa’s marine environment, specifically regarding bird and plant life. Golden Lead, a Chinese fish-processing plant, has already caused the extinction of a Gambian wildlife reserve.

Yet, fishmeal factories in The Gambia continue to install waste pipes that pollute African waters. Aquaculture’s goal was to offer a more sustainable alternative to marine fishing in the hopes that this practice would meet the growing demand for fish while allowing overexploited fish populations to replenish themselves. However, these effects are currently happening at the expense of Africa’s marine ecosystem, food security and the locals’ livelihood.

A Developing Solution

Researchers have identified multiple alternatives to fishmeal factories in The Gambia. Their goal is to make aquaculture truly sustainable. Fish-free feeds such as seaweed, cassava waste, soldier-fly larvae, viruses and bacteria proteins and even human sewage could become the norm if their cost-effectiveness is increased.

Algae-based aquafeeds in particular are very promising alternatives. With a high feed conversion ratio and the feeding of algae to tilapia and salmon, this solution can have promising results. Multiple companies have made breakthroughs in algae-based aquafeeds in recent years and the cost comparison to fishmeal is improving. Aquaculture can become a sustainable method of seafood production if it adopts algae-based feeds.

– Serah-Marie Maharaj
Photo: Flickr

Stopping Overfishing: Reducing Poverty and Saving DolphinsOverfishing in developing countries all over the world exacerbates poverty, causes food insecurity and impacts marine life. Overfishing occurs when specific regions are fished continually using special technology. The practice is tied to bycatch, which occurs when unwanted marine life is caught and killed in the nets used to mass fish. Bycatch has depleted marine life, leading to disastrous consequences for the oceans and the people whose livelihoods depend on the oceans.

Overfishing and Poverty

In developing countries, fisheries are essential in providing food and financial security. For example, in Cambodia, the Tonle Sap Lake is essential in providing income and food for the local communities. However, overfishing has hampered the development of that area, driving these communities into poverty.

In addition, overfishing in developing countries is more likely to occur because developed countries take advantage of developing areas by deploying fisheries under subsidies. For example, the West African waters attract European fishers who have the capacity to catch between “two and three times more than the sustainable level,” hence destroying the fish stocks as well as the livelihoods of fishers in Western Africa. In Senegal, in particular, “90% of fisheries are fully fished or facing collapse.”

In interviews collected by Jessica H. Jonsson, a researcher, locals in Senegal have expressed concerns over getting food and fish. In some instances, the huge European ships destroy local fishermen’s fishing nets, creating anger and frustration among the locals.

The lack of income and employment leads to poverty and forced migration. In many circumstances, West Africans end up as “illegal migrants” in European countries due to the lack of employment opportunities in their own countries.

“Poor, desperate migrant workers from these countries take significant risk in hopes of earning good pay to support their families back home, but often are not paid what they are promised, or paid at all,” Andy Shen, Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Advisor told The Borgen Project. Shen states further that “this contributes to continued poverty at the local and national levels in their countries.”

Overfishing and the Environment

Overfishing has socio-economic ramifications, leading to increased poverty in communities, however, overfishing affects more than just communities. The marine ecosystem depends on a particular balance. For example, as more and more fish stock depletes, dolphins and other large marine animals have a harder time finding the food they need to survive, leading to an ecosystem collapse. Addressing overfishing will not only lead to an increase in the livelihoods of fishing communities but will also save marine life such as dolphins.

The Good News

Although the situation looks bleak, many nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are working to reduce overfishing in developing countries and address poverty. One of these organizations is Greenpeace. Greenpeace is an environmental organization fighting to address climate change injustice and other environmental issues. The organization’s Ocean Sector advocates to reduce illegal fishing and overfishing in West Africa and Taiwan.

Through press exposures and campaigning, the organization is able to put international pressure on governments to reduce overfishing. For example, in Taiwan, Greenpeace successfully advocated for putting Taiwan on the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Forced Labor for seafood harvested by Taiwan’s distant water fishing fleet, which has spurred reforms in overfishing.

In the case of West Africa, press releases have been gaining international attention and solidarity. In 2017, Greenpeace exposed about 10 ships for illegal fishing and fishing infractions, helping to stop overfishing in those regions. Overfishing requires the cooperation of local governments as well as NGOs like Greenpeace. Shen says that governments need to focus on “prioritizing the fishing rights of coastal, small-scale fisheries over foreign industrial fleets” to help revitalize impoverished communities.

Looking Ahead

Overfishing in developing countries will continue to damage the livelihoods of fishing communities, driving people into poverty and depleting marine life. However, with small steps and community support, ending overfishing can reduce poverty and safeguard marine life as well.

“At the micro-community level, using more selective fishing gear, such as pole and line, and respecting marine protected areas, will ensure fish populations are not overfished and the marine ecosystem remains healthy,” Shen added.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

Combatting Illegal Fishing in IndonesiaAs a seafaring country with thousands of islands, Indonesia relies heavily on fishing for food and for economic well-being. Fishing is the main source of income for millions of people in the country and the surrounding region; a decline in the industry could be disastrous for these areas. For this reason, illegal fishing in Indonesia has raised concern as it has strained fish populations in the region and risked the livelihoods of millions of fishers. To combat this issue, USAID partnered with several conservation organizations to implement the USAID Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced project. The USAID SEA project is a five-year effort that seeks to protect seafood supplies and promote ethical fishing practices in Indonesia.

What is Illegal Fishing?

When fishing vessels do not possess the proper documentation and equipment required by Indonesian law to fish in Indonesian waters, these vessels engage in illegal fishing. To deter illegal fishing, the Indonesian government mandates that each fishing vessel possesses the necessary licenses and declares its fishing gear. This helps the government collect data on the types of equipment used and the number of vessels in the country. The government limits the number of vessels present at a certain time to prevent overfishing and to ensure fishermen practice ethical fishing techniques.

Impacts of Illegal Fishing

Indonesia is situated in the Coral Triangle, an area encompassing most of maritime Southeast Asia. The Coral Triangle contains more than 2,000 species of coral reef fish, making it one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Moreover, this diversity in fish species directly correlates with why fishing remains an integral part of the region’s economy of the region. As it stands, “the Coral Triangle sustains at least 120 million people.” In Indonesia specifically, the fishing industry employs an estimated 12 million people, which allows the nation to be the second-largest fish producer in the world.

Indonesia’s reliance on ocean life is a fundamental aspect of the country’s way of life, and as such, threats to the fishing ecosystem can have severe consequences. Overfishing has had a detrimental impact on fish populations over the years, illustrated by a 95% decline in fish populations in the region over the last 60 years. Furthermore, destructive fishing practices that use explosives to stun fish — known as “dynamite fishing” — destroy marine habitats, leaving extensive damage. These practices continue to harm the fishing industry in Indonesia. Low incomes for fishers have already led to a decline in professionals in the industry within the last 20 years.

USAID’s SEA Program

The USAID SEA project clamps down on illegal fishing in Indonesia and protects local fisheries by collaborating with local communities. Initiated in 2016, this five-year program worked in the provinces of West Papua, Maluku and North Maluku, where illegal fishing practices have hit fishing communities the hardest. USAID SEA sought direct collaborations with locals to “raise awareness about marine conservation, educate others in their community about these issues and report harmful practices to local authorities.”

Designed to curb illegal fishing in Indonesia, the USAID SEA project helps assure ethical fishing practices. Illegal fishing practices like overfishing deplete fish populations, negatively affect the livelihoods of fishers and hurt the country’s economy. The project raises awareness about the importance of marine conservation and its long-term benefits for these communities. As such, it helps defend a way of life for millions of Indonesian people.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

SDG 14 in Germany
Germany is aiming to fulfill Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water while also strengthening its maritime economy. The country passed an agenda that aims to bolster the industry and simultaneously provide clean energy throughout national and international waters by 2025. While aquaculture remains a small component of Germany’s maritime sector, the country is hoping to incorporate clean, sustainable energy tactics and preserve quality maritime food production. Here are some updates on SDG 14 in Germany.

About the Sustainable Development Goals

The month of June 2021 served as the focal point for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13: Climate Action; 14: Life Below Water; and 15: Life on Land. Germany is one of many countries dedicating its resources and research to fulfilling the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda. Adopted by all U.N. Member States in 2015, it includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for each state to reach by 2030.

Germany’s focus is on SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production; and SDGs 13, 14 and 15. SDG 14 calls upon countries to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries’ efforts to complete SDG 14 did not diminish. According to the U.N., the ocean can be an ally against COVID-19, as marine life – such as bacteria – are useful in detecting the presence of the virus through rapid tests. Organisms in the ocean are also an asset to pharmaceutical companies when developing vaccines and immunizations.

Updates on SDG 14 in Germany in 2021

Surprisingly, only 10% of the German population had knowledge of the SDGs in 2018, according to the European Environmental Agency. The country needed public support from the population to complete the environmental SDGs, including SDG 14. The German federal government created a campaign to draw attention to the goals and outline the importance of sustainable energy in Germany, particularly in the maritime sector.

The government also created the German Sustainable Development Strategy in 2016 to match the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda, which tracks the country’s progress in completing SDG 13, 14 and 15, specifically. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development launched plans for marine conservation and sustainable fisheries with an allocation of over €180 million and also created MAREN, a federal research and development program. The “N” stands for Nachhaltigkeit (sustainability).

Currently, Germany’s overall score for all the SDGs is 82.5, compared to the regional average of 77.2. However, the country is below 75% for achieving SDG 12, 13 and 14. The country is facing significant challenges to achieve SDG 14 but is moderately improving as time goes on.

The United Nations reported that in 2020, the mean protected area coverage for marine life sat at 44% globally. As of February 2021, Germany reported a protection rate of 69.4% regarding the country’s areas important to marine life biodiversity. A member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany holds an international spillover index of 60.4, almost 10 points behind the 70.1 average for OECD members.

How Germany is Improving in Regard to SDG 14

Among the six indicators for SDG 14, Germany is improving in two areas. The amount of fish that fishermen caught from overexploited or collapsed stocks – 46.6% as of 2014 – remains a significant challenge for the country, despite Germany’s progress towards achieving SDG 14. Fishing by trawling or dredging (21.3 as of 2016) is a slight challenge, but also is improving at an SDG-approved rate.

Germany’s most significant challenge is achieving a clean waters score in the Ocean Health Index. The index measures to what degree chemicals, human pathogens and trash contaminated marine waters. The country’s score is 51.0, with 0 being the worst and 100 being the best.

According to a 2020 report from the Ocean Health Index, the decrease in Germany’s score comes from three areas: Clean Water, Food Provisions and Fisheries (a subgroup of Food Provisions). While Germany is not one of the top 10 countries for fish provisions and aquaculture, these three areas directly correspond to the success of Germany’s maritime industry.

The Situation in Bremen

Bremen is one of Germany’s forefront maritime cities, with a long history of shipbuilding companies and suppliers. It is the second-largest port in Germany and is important to the job industry. In 2019, Bremen was home to 1,300 companies and at least 40,000 employees. Bremen’s ports make up 30% of the region’s economy.

In the same year, Bremen had the highest poverty risk rates in Germany, sitting at 22.7%, compared to Bayern, which had a poverty risk rate of 11.7%, and Berlin, with a rate of 18.2%. In 2020, Bremen’s percentage increased to 24.9%. According to Deutsche Welle, in 2017, one in every four adults and one in every three children in Bremen were poor. Bremen has experienced significant unemployment. In fact, it had a 5.1% unemployment rate in 2019. Improving the maritime industry with SDG 14 efforts could lower the poverty risk in maritime cities such as Bremen, by providing jobs and boosting the economy as a whole.

How the Maritime Industry is Important to the German Economy

Strengthening Germany’s maritime economy is vital to the country’s success. Estimates from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy have placed an annual turnover at €50 billion and 400,000 jobs. The Ministry is researching effective methods to improve the maritime sector while also adhering to efforts towards sustainable energy, mitigating environmental challenges, creating jobs and protecting the global environment.

In 2017, Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the Maritime Agenda 2025, dedicated to turning the country into a maritime hub. The agenda placed emphasis on sustainability. The federal government will set aside funding for clean energy fuel sources and ship propulsion systems. The agenda also calls upon the international system to develop environmental standards similar to that of the SDGs. Area of action four of the agenda focuses on shaping maritime transport sustainability. In 2013, the federal government presented options for alternative fuels and new, energy-saving technologies that can support those fuels.

Wind Energy

One of the options includes wind power. As of June 7, 2021, Germany plans to expand offshore wind power in the Baltic and North Seas, particularly along with Dogger Bank, which sits in the middle of the North Sea. Building offshore wind turbines is a significant step in Germany’s progress toward reaching SDG 14 and its Maritime Agenda 2025. Using sea winds as a renewable energy source was the last of the new alternative technologies that emerged as part of the environmental plan for sustainable energy in Germany.

Various environmental groups raised concerns about how the introduction of turbines on the Dogger Bank will affect marine life and fisheries in the area. Germany created co-use options that will both provide sustainable energy for Germany and allow fish to pass through fish traps, baskets and nets. By 2030, one area in both the Baltic and North Seas undergo designation as a priority area for wind energy.

German wind farms in the North Sea have already safely produced more electricity than in years prior. It is clear that progress in creating sustainable energy in Germany is moving in a positive direction, bringing the country closer to achieving its goal of reaching SDG 14 in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Overfishing in West AfricaWest African people rely on fish as a primary protein source and a form of income, supporting the livelihoods of close to seven million people. Due to overfishing and illegal fishing, fish stocks are dropping, and as a result, the West African population risks food insecurity and increased poverty. Roughly 40% of the region’s fish is caught illegally. Overfishing in West Africa threatens to permanently hobble the economies of many developing countries in the region and destroy fish stocks for generations. In order to curb this threat, organizations are taking action.

Something Fishy

In West African countries, artisanal fishing has been a dominant career for generations. However, industrial fishing operations, mostly from China and the EU, threaten artisanal fishing. These countries use massive ships to trawl fish from the West African seas at a rate that could permanently wipe out the stock of fish in the region if left unchecked. In addition to depleting one of the region’s key food supplies, illegal overfishing in West Africa steals an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue from the region each year.

Local fishers try their best to compete but continue to struggle. According to a study, boats from the EU and China fish 11 times more efficiently than local artisanal fishers in West Africa. Even when foreign nations fish legally, they hardly pay their fair share. The EU, for example, pays West African nations just 8% of the value of fish it catches. As a result of these practices, West Africa loses out on an extremely valuable resource with very little compensation in return.

Not Enough Fish in the Sea

While the long-term environmental and economic impacts of overfishing are very concerning, the immediate hunger of people in West Africa is more pressing. The region faces an all-time high level of food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflict in the region. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies estimates that 23.6 million people in West Africa will face crisis levels of food insecurity in 2021.

Increased food insecurity goes hand-in-hand with other economic problems. Hundreds of thousands of people from West Africa migrate to European countries in hopes of finding work, a number that continues to grow. Many of these migrants cite lack of job opportunities and inadequate access to food and other essential services as reasons for leaving.

It is imperative for West African countries to crackdown on illegal fishing in order to address the problem. Researchers from the Sea Around Us project argue that policymakers should focus on supporting artisanal fishing as it creates more jobs and is better for the environment. Furthermore, placing limits on the industrial fleet operations of other countries will return control back to the region and ensure sustainable fishing.

The World Bank’s Solution

While the problem of overfishing in West Africa is daunting, organizations have mobilized to help solve the issue. The West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARF-P) is a three-phase initiative with a $170 million investment in the region’s fisheries. According to the World Bank, the program focuses specifically on reducing poverty and food insecurity by ending overfishing.

Phase one of WARF-P saw commendable success in Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The program has helped shape new laws regarding overfishing and has given local fishers access to more resources. In Cabo Verde, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, the project helped register 34,000 small-scale fishing vessels in order to better monitor fishing activity. The project began in 2010 and ended in 2019.  WARF-P positively reported that illegal fishing has reduced in all beneficiary countries.

While these investments in the region are helpful for local communities, the investments fall short of compensating for the multi-billion dollar losses from overfishing in West Africa. It is vital to spread awareness on the issue and urge local governments to take action to prevent future losses. At the end of the day, proper management of these oceans falls on the shoulders of West African leaders.

Reeling it in

West Africa is a region that is very susceptible to the impacts of poverty, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Overfishing in West Africa will potentially haunt the region forever if local governments do not comprehensively address the issue. West Africa’s fish belong to the people of the region first and foremost. On the bright side, the benefits of solving the problem are immense and immediate. Food insecurity will drop while local employment rises, reducing poverty in West Africa.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

Slavery in the Thai Fishing Industry
With Thailand’s status as one of the world’s largest fishery exporters, the rest of the world is entangled in the industry’s human trafficking and forced labor violations. The spotlight ended up on Thailand in 2015 due to reports of slavery in the Thai fishing industry. In response, there has been movement from world governments and organizations alike towards ending slavery. However, industry workers, mostly poor migrants from Myanmar and Cambodia, continue to suffer.

Slavery Exposed

In June 2014, the story broke that the world’s top four shrimp retailers commissioned Thai fishing boats that supposedly had workers who were human trafficking victims aboard. Further reporting revealed the Thai fishing industry’s extensive misuse of workers. Supposedly, these workers experienced poor working conditions and confinement similar to a prison. In fact, workers were receiving pay below the minimum wage and not obtaining payments on time. Additionally, in extreme cases, reports as of January 2018 have determined that some workers died, suffered beatings or were trafficking victims.

Oceana analyst Lacey Malarky explained the reason for the pattern of human rights abuses in the fishing industry. Malarky said that the decline of global fishing stocks has caused fishing boats to travel further away. This caused “operators [to resort to] illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and human rights abuses to protect costs.” 

Global Response to Slavery in Thailand

In response to reports of slavery in the fishing industry in Thailand, the U.S. reduced Thailand to Tier 3 status in its Trafficking in Persons report. Tier 3 is the lowest status regarding human trafficking that a country can receive. Additionally, the European Commission gave Thailand a “yellow card” and threatened a “red card,” resulting in European Union sanctions.

At the time, the consequences were devastating to Thailand’s fishing industry. The U.S. and European Union are the second and third largest markets for Thai seafood exports. The E.U. imported almost $500 million of Thai seafood in 2016 and the U.S. imported over $28 billion in 2018. 

In response, Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order made moves to overhaul “fishing industry monitoring, control and management.” New frameworks  say that “teams of officials are now supposed to check fishing boats each time they depart and arrive in port.” Additionally, it made the effort to strengthen its laws and increase penalties if laborers’ rights experienced infringement.

Issues with Enforcement

One primary issue with protecting victimized fishermen is that Thai law does not protect migrant workers. In general, Thailand does not strongly enforce laws that protect workers. A Human Rights Watch report in 2018 found that “Thai inspection frameworks fail to adequately or systematically address issues of forced labor.”

For example, the government introduced a “pink card” registration scheme in 2014. This was to decrease undocumented migrants working in Thailand. However, the initiative has done very little to protect the most vulnerable. The “pink card” monitors and controls workers by occasionally making sure that fishermen match the pink card. This details a specific location and crew manifest of the boat a particular fisherman is on. Critics say that focusing on the “pink card” denies that both documented and undocumented migrants can be victims of exploitation. 

Another issue with intervention is that many poor fishermen agree to mediation and settlements following complaints. This tends to result in laborers being unable to receive the money they have entitlement to while abusive bosses can avoid legal action. The pattern of complaints resulting in settlements causes the continuation of abuse, failing to end slavery in the Thai fishing industry.

Documenting Progress

In the last six years, there have been significant efforts to reduce instances of slavery in the fishing industry. In January 2019, Thailand became the first Asian country to ratify the International Labour Organization Work in Fishing Convention. This is a guide that specifies laws and regulations to improve working conditions in industrial fishing. Additionally, in March 2021, a dozen industry associations in Thailand “signed pacts to rid their supply chains of child and forced labor.”

Seafood Slavery Risk Tool

Developed by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Seafood Watch and Liberty Shared, the Risk Tool analyzes risk using both public and non-public information. This is to help businesses “identify the risk of slavery in their supply chains.” The technology continues to evolve. The updates to the Risk Tool will provide businesses with interactive maps. This shows the risk of “forced labor, human trafficking and hazardous child labor” to help businesses make decisions about suppliers.

Global Fishing Watch’s Automatic Identification System

The Global Fishing Watch is an online database tracking fishing ships via an onboard satellite transmitter. This is called the Automatic Identification System, which was originally developed to prevent ship collisions, and now catches vessels engaged in illegal behavior. The system targets ships that need further inspection by collecting data on four points of potentially illegal behavior. The points include whether ships stayed at sea for months, temporarily turned off transmitters to enter marine protected areas, engaged in trans-shipment and avoided strict ports. Using the technology, analysts are hopeful that more justice will be possible for vulnerable, victimized workers.

Reports show that Thailand has made huge steps toward ending the abuse and misuse of workers. However, more is necessary to end slavery in the Thai fishing industry. Through further attention and ongoing attempts to mitigate and bring justice to slave labor in Thailand’s fishing industry, the treatment of laborers in the Thai fishing industry should improve.

Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Thai Fishing Industry
In recent weeks, Thailand experienced a new wave of COVID-19 cases originating from a large seafood market near Bangkok. The Prime Minister of Thailand wasted no time in blaming the outbreak on human smuggling networks and illegal immigrants. Most of those working at this particular market are from neighboring Myanmar. This ongoing outbreak brings Thailand’s fishing industry back into focus. The industry faces international pressure to address findings of horrific working conditions, unfair wages and forced labor. This article discusses the importance of the Thai fishing industry, the human rights abuses uncovered in recent years and what some are doing to address these issues.

Thai Fishing Industry

The Thai fishing industry exports more than $6 billion worth of products annually and employs more than 800,000 people. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp. The industry came under fire in the E.U. in 2014 due to reports uncovering widespread forced labor, worker abuses and environmental degradation in the industry.

Burmese immigrants represent a majority of those working in the Thai fishing industry, followed by a smaller percentage of Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. Workers on fishing vessels are exclusively men, while men and women each work in the seafood processing sector. There is a mixture of regular and irregular workers, which makes ascertaining the true number of immigrants in the fishing industry difficult. About 3 million labor migrants legally live in Thailand and an estimated two million more are undocumented.

Poor Working Conditions

Working conditions on Thai fishing vessels are notoriously challenging. In multiple reports, workers discuss working 18-20 hour days with inadequate food, water and medical supplies. Between 14% and 18% of migrants report being victims of forced labor. Among these victims of human trafficking, over half report seeing a coworker killed in front of them. Threats from employers and beatings are common, along with working at sea for years at a time without being allowed to leave the vessel. These conditions affect all nationalities in the Thai fishing industry, but undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to mistreatment.

Solutions

Although much work is necessary to address issues in the Thai fishing industry, Thailand has been largely receptive to suggestions that organizations such as the ILO and other national and international human rights NGOs have made. The government has improved legal frameworks and compliance measures for fishing companies. Additionally, wages have increased and housing conditions are improving, according to respondents in a recent ILO survey released in 2020.

Specific laws that have gone into place include the elimination of recruitment fees that workers pay, banning the practice of employers withholding identity documents from workers and banning child labor in the fishing industry. Going forward, regional compliance will be essential in enforcing these legal frameworks. Thailand is attempting to set that precedent in the ASEAN region. In response, the E.U. lifted its “yellow card” rating for the industry and continues to accept seafood imports.

The Labor Protection Network

For more than 15 years, the Labor Protection Network (LPN) has been spearheading efforts to clean up the Thai fishing industry. LPN conducts direct action raids on illegal fishing boats, provides short- and long-term shelter for victims and educates children in its centers. Additionally, LPN has brought international attention to the industry through its advocacy campaigns. A notable part of these efforts is the appearance of co-founder Patima Tungpuchayakul in the documentary “Ghost Fleet.” In 2017, Tungpuchayakul received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in human rights.

Each year, LPN also provides legal assistance to more than 3,000 migrants. It provides assistance in Thai, Burmese, Khmer or Lao, depending on migrants’ needs. Victims of human trafficking in Thailand have a right to government protection and legal assistance. LPN plays a crucial role in identifying victims of human trafficking that grants these protections, as the Thai authorities sometimes struggle to identify victims through its enforcement procedures.

Through the work of the government, LPN and other NGOs, the Thai fishing industry is improving its standards to meet international demands. With this spotlight on the human rights issues involved in the industry, funding and monitoring remain critical to building on current progress.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Aquaculture for Poverty Reduction
Can aquaculture reduce global poverty while improving ocean health and the renewable energy crises? The short answer is that aquaculture for poverty reduction is possible. Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals and plants, such as fish or seaweed. Aquaculture is prominent in coastal communities, particularly in eastern regions of the world. Here is how such a simple concept could resolve the complex aforementioned issues.

Progressing the Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations established the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the intent to create a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

The first goal is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the eighth goal is to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

In order to fulfill both of these goals, countries must prioritize creating decent jobs and incentivizing productive employment to create sustainable economic growth. Aquaculture provides employment opportunities for those impoverished in coastal and rural communities across the globe and provides nutritious food that can often be hard to access without monetary resources. A prime example of aquaculture’s socioeconomic contribution to said communities is that of the Mwenezi district of Zimbabwe. Members of the district were facing decreased employment availability due to severe weather conditions. Their dilemma caught the attention of several NGOs that introduced fish farming as a way to increase employment opportunities. Not only did employment opportunities increase, but household income and food security increased as well.

Ocean Health: Nitrogen

In 2014, between 18.6 and 37.2 million tons of nitrogen that people used for global fertilization ended up in the ocean. As a result, 245,000 square kilometers of the ocean suffered from hypoxia. Hypoxic areas, also known as dead zones, cannot support marine life as there is not enough oxygen dissolved in the water.

If global production of seaweed reaches 500 million tons by 2050, the World Bank estimates that the ocean could absorb 10 million tons of nitrogen. That is just 30% of the predicted amount of nitrogen that enters the ocean. This would undoubtedly improve oceanic conditions for marine life by preventing dead zones.

Ocean Health: Carbon Sequestration

Part of carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon to mitigate the effect of greenhouse gases on the ocean. Excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes ocean acidification and negatively impacts the health of marine life. Carbon dioxide lowers the pH of the ocean making it more acidic than usual, and in turn reduces the availability of minerals that corals, mollusks and other organisms use to form shells. Increased seaweed production would combat the amount of carbon dioxide added to seawater from greenhouse gas emissions. For example, 500 million tons of seaweed could absorb 135 million tons of carbon. Moreover, due to the positive effect of carbon sequestration, the profitability of seaweed farming could increase.

Renewable Energy

Seaweed farming, a subset of aquaculture, has the potential to create a highly efficient form of renewable energy called biomass. Biomass is material that comes from plants or animals and can be effective for energy production. In 2015, nearly 5% of the United States’ energy came from biomass, making it the largest form of renewable energy. According to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), seaweed farming in the United States could reach production levels of up to 500 million tons of algae which would provide more energy than 23 billion gallons of gasoline.

Dry seaweed has a carbohydrate content of roughly 50%, which people can use for biofuel production. In concurrence with ARPA-E, the World Bank stated that if 500 million tons of dry seaweed underwent harvesting annually, it would produce around “1.25 billion megawatt-hour’s worth of methane or liquid fuel.” This amount of renewable energy would equate to 1.5% of the 85 billion megawatt-hours of fossil fuels used worldwide in 2012.

Global Aquaculture Alliance

The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that began its operation in 1997. Its mission is to “promote responsible aquaculture practices through education, advocacy and demonstration.” The following are successful manifestations of this mission and shows the benefits of aquaculture for poverty reduction.

In 2019, GAA conducted an educational campaign called Aquaculture 101. The purpose was to spread awareness and inform people on the basics of aquaculture, particularly those skeptical of fish farming. GAA has also funded a joint project with the Marine Ingredients Organisation to better understand fisheries in Southeast Asia that are responsible for providing raw material for fishmeal production. While the fishmeal sector has grown exponentially over the course of 50 years, the two organizations seek to better understand the challenges undermining management practices so that they may make informed suggestions. Furthermore, Best Aquaculture Practices, a subset of GAA, has seen a 15% increase in producers operating in 36 countries from 2010 to 2019. Producers include processing plants, farms, feed mills, hatcheries and reprocessors. This is an incredible trajectory that shows the GAA’s impact on aquaculture across the globe.

Aquaculture for poverty reduction has proven to effective while providing decent employment opportunities to create sustainable economic growth. Moreover, it has shown its capacity to improve the health of the ocean and provide new forms of renewable energy so that the world may sustain its current energy standards. Organizations like the Global Aquaculture Alliance and the Marine Ingredients Organisation are working toward these goals so that the world may become a more habitable place for all.

Mary Qualls
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The Backwaters of Kerala
The backwaters of Kerala in India are a maze of lakes, streams and lagoons with a unique ecosystem. Over the years, a variety of challenges have affected the backwaters and threatened the ecosystem, such as contamination from pesticides that farmers use in paddy fields, dumping of chemical emissions from factories and sewage from cities, unregulated sand dredging for construction, and in recent decades, the tourism boom that has worsened water pollution.

Tourism and Pollution

Over 15 million tourists visited Kerala in 2017. Backwater cruises in houseboats, called Kettuvallams, are a popular tourist activity. A reported 70% of households along the Alleppey backwaters are involved in providing tourist services in one form or another.

The popularity of the backwaters as a tourist experience led to a surge in the number of houseboats. More than 1,000 houseboats operate on the backwaters, far beyond capacity, and a large number are not registered. A houseboat can produce up to 1,000 liters of waste a day. Due to lax regulations, most of the houseboats discharge sewage directly into the waters. Emissions and oil leakages from the houseboats and dumping of plastics and other inorganic waste have further contaminated the backwaters.

Effects on the Lives of the Local People

Pollution from sewage dumping, salinization of the water, sand dredging and other such disruptions have affected the lives of the locals in the backwaters of Kerala in many ways. Much of their traditions and cultural practices connect to the waterways. The backwaters are their primary water source, which they use for cooking, drinking, bathing, etc. But due to oil leakages, the water has a glossy residue and tastes like oil, making it dangerous to consume. Polluted waters also affect paddy fields that run alongside the backwaters. The contaminated water reportedly causes illnesses such as skin diseases. And there have been reports of tourist houseboats invading the privacy of the residents.

Additionally, over 1.5 million residents depend on Vembanad Lake for their livelihoods, and the ecological decline is a cause of great concern. Fisherfolks experience the most effects as several fish species have declined in large numbers or disappeared entirely.

Remedial Measures and Challenges

State and District pollution control authorities have set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) for proper treatment and disposal of sewage and created regulations to ensure compliance and identify unregistered houseboats. However, these efforts are not without setbacks. A Sewage Treatment Plant set up specifically for houseboats had to shut down due to operational problems, and dumping of sewage into the backwaters continued. Despite these challenges, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) emphasized the need for more STP’s and an enforcement wing to monitor the houseboats.

Local residents and organizations such as the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), have also taken steps to control pollution and restore the ecosystem. Every year in May, ATREE organizes the Vembanad Fish Count to document fish species and numbers and evaluate the water quality. Fishermen in Muhamma village, with the guidance of ATREE, have created fish sanctuaries to increase the number of fish. An anti-plastic straw campaign and workshops to spread awareness among women in Muhamma village about the advantages of reusable menstrual products also emerged. And more recently, solar-powered boats and non-motorized canoes are gaining popularity among tourists.

While the tourism boom has certainly benefited the State and created a reliable income source for many locals, preserving the backwaters of Kerala and its ecology is of utmost importance. Initiatives by residents, organizations and advocacy groups who have recognized the need for action and policy have helped spread awareness. And while much work needs to still occur, efforts to contain pollution and reverse the ill effects have intensified.

– Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr