Immigrant Rights

Hawaiian officials hold public meeting on fishing industry conditions

In this Sept. 14, 2016 file photo, fishermen stand on a boat at Pier 38 in Honolulu. A group of Hawaii lawmakers is holding a public meeting to discuss conditions among the Hawaii longline fleet.

In this Sept. 14, 2016 file photo, fishermen stand on a boat at Pier 38 in Honolulu. A group of Hawaii lawmakers is holding a public meeting to discuss conditions among the Hawaii longline fleet.  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Hawaiian officials met on Wednesday to discuss working conditions for fishermen living on the boats.

The meeting was in response to an Associated Press probe that investigating what it was like for some fishermen. The probe found that some fishermen have been confined to the boats for years. The investigation was an initiative looking at labor abuses in the fishing industry on a global scale.

A loophole allows foreign fishermen to work but denies them certain labor protections. The foreign fishermen are forced to stay on the vessels because they are not legally allowed to enter the US.

"It's hard to sleep, because every day we don't do something is another night that some folks are suffering," state Rep. Kaniela Ing said, "It's very frustrating to just hear people just kind of punt or say maybe over time we can find a solution."

State lawmakers pressed fishing industry representatives about what can be done to improve conditions for the fishermen.

The Associated Press reported that some of these conditions included ‘men living in squalor on some boats, forced to use buckets instead of toilets, suffering running sores from bed bugs and sometimes lacking sufficient food.’

The Hawaii Longline Association, created a universal crew contract that must be on boats wanting to sell fish in the state's seafood auction. Officials estimated less than 60 boat owners have returned the contract.

"I think the universal contract is a good first step, but it's far from sufficient," Ing said.

Prior to the meeting, Hawaii residents demanded an end to these unacceptable conditions.

Federal law requires 75 percent of the crew on almost all US commercial fishing vessels be American citizens. Hawaii has an exemption formed years ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.