Hawai’i Continues to Enable Slave Fishing Ships

      Hawaiian waterman Malama Chun filed another appeal in the Maui Environmental Court against the state Board of Land and Natural Resources regarding his petition challenging DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources practice of issuing licenses to foreign fisherman who have been refused permission to land in Hawai’i by U.S. authorities and have been ordered deported.

      Chun originally filed his petition in April, 2017. The BLNR first denied the petition on the grounds that Chun lacked standing. Chun appealed and the Maui Environmental Court reversed that decision in December, 2017, sending it back to the BLNR to decide the merits of Chun’s petition.

      In a mind-bending decision DLNR concluded that foreign fishermen who have been denied entry into the United States and are confined to their ships pending deportation are “lawfully admitted to the United States” and therefore permitted to obtain commercial marine licenses.

      State law restricts the issuance of commercial fishing licenses to persons “lawfully admitted to the United States”. Foreign fishermen working in the longline fishing industry are refused permission to land in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are also ordered deported. Any reasonable person (or attorney) would conclude they are therefore not “lawfully admitted to the United States”.

      However, using a loophole, ICE authorizes the fisherman’s boat captain to hold the fisherman’s passport and the deportation order and allow the boat captain to determine when the deportation is to occur. To enforce the deportation order, the piers at which the fishing boats dock are heavily militarized and access is restricted.

This effectively imprisons the fishermen on the ships for months (or years) at a time making them virtual slaves.

       Malama Chun commented, “This makes no sense. It’s like the land board looked at the blue ocean and insisted to all that it’s red.”

      Chun’s attorney, Lance D. Collins, added: “The statute is clear. The practice is illegal. The Land Board cannot interpret the parts of a statute it doesn’t like out of existence. That’s the prerogative of the legislature.”

The force behind continuing this form of slave labor is the Hawaii Longline Fishing Association. The effect of these rules is to drive Hawai’i fishermen out of existence because they pay prevailing U.S. wages and the slaver ships do not.