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.

Labor Dept asked to investigate longline fishers for violations

On September 19th, Trinette Furtado requested that the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations look into what she described as “the widespread Violations of the Hawai’i labor laws by the longline fishing industry.” Furtado alleges that, “Unlike reputable native Hawaiian and other local fishing outfits, these labor violations oppress workers, deceive consumers and undercut competition within the market.”

The longline fishing industry is composed of fishing vessels which engage in fishing and fishing related activities including transportation of products and housing of foreign fish workers within the territorial waters of the State of Hawai’i. They use state resources managed by the Department of Land and Natural Resource and Harbors Division of the Department of Transportation’s controlled and operated state harbors. They unload their products in Honolulu where they are sold and enter into the Hawai’i market and beyond.

As has been reported previously and recently in the press, many longline fishing boat owners use labor recruiters to recruit fish workers from Third World countries. These workers come from subsistence or other impoverished backgrounds and have no familiarity with Hawai’i wage and labor laws.

They are generally ineligible to admission into the United States. Instead, using an obscure practice of the Department of Homeland Security, employers obtain standard deportation forms from Homeland Security which require that these workers be “detained-on-board” by the boat owner and/or captain.

According to Furtado, “Individuals employed in these enterprises generally are told they will be paid $300/month for a twenty-four month term. However, often, $100/month is deducted to give the labor recruiter and the remainder is kept by the boat owner until the end of the term, many deducting meal and other expenses from the amounts.”

“We have come across no evidence that these workers are paid weekly or bi-weekly or that they are given a regular accounting of their wages and deductions,” continued Furtado.

Furtado attached the names of numerous individuals being “detained on board” and examples of worker contracts backing up her allegations.

This practice of allowing fishing workers working in Hawai’i waters and using Hawai’i docks to be “detained on board” violates both Hawaiian values and the Hawai’i constitution, according to Furtado.

Letter to Labor Department (names redacted):