Seafood industry increasingly hard to untangle
Do you know where your seafood comes from? All seafood—fresh, frozen, and canned—is part of a massive global fishing industry, and the mechanics of fishing as well as the demand for inexpensive seafood have created conditions that make it cheaper to process the seafood in Thailand than in the various places where seafood is caught. All of which makes it increasingly difficult to identify who caught your fish where and under what conditions.
Some Thai tuna linked to human rights abuses
Recent media stories about human rights abuses in Thailand related to the fishing industry have caught the attention of some of our members, so The Food Co-op invited Andréa Linton of Crown Prince Producers to come discuss both the larger industry and what her company does differently from typical producers. It turns out that most of the cases of forced labor—that is, modern-day slavery—are found on the massive vessels that go out to sea for months at a time, fishing in open waters for the larger tuna. Those ships freeze the tuna they catch before coming back to Thailand to process the fish into “fresh” or canned tuna. Some producers, concerned about social justice, have opted to follow a different path, using smaller vessels that go out on short trips and return to process their catch, usually daily.
Crown Prince pursues fair work practices
Having worked in the seafood industry for 17 years, Andréa has seen many changes, and she described how Crown Prince has often been at the forefront of positive change. Crown Prince chooses to work with small producers with whom they have built personal relationships. They can trace the fish from the boat to the packer; they know which batches of fish come from which vessel. In addition, they regularly inspect the operations of their suppliers. In Thailand, Crown Prince makes lengthy visits (several days at a time) to their packer—and cannery—with whom they’ve worked for 30 years. This packer is also audited every year for compliance with the USDA on a range of questions, including working conditions.
Our shopping choices matter
Seafood is a commonly held resource but no one is managing it, which means it is everyone’s responsibility to ask questions about where our seafood comes from. And if we want ethically produced seafood, we’ll have to pay the true cost. As always, if something is too cheap, someone somewhere is paying for it. In the meantime, The Food Co-op will continue to research the complicated issues around sustainability and fair labor, and in the next few months, we’ll post information in our store helping you to make informed choices.