Workers in the Fishing Industry

From the steady depletion of fish populations to the suffering these animals experience, it is clear that commercial fishing is a cruel industry. But what about the humans who toil on fishing boats or in processing plants? Numerous investigations and research studies show that these workers endure low wages, inadequate living facilities, insufficient food and water, a lack of safety equipment, and endless working hours. Many fishers are forced to work as part of debt bondage to pay off an obligation, such as their recruitment; they receive very little pay or might only be compensated with a portion of the day’s catch.[1] Others are even enslaved, victims of human trafficking who work against their will for no pay at all. Such forced labor has been recently found aboard ships from Thailand, China, and Taiwan as well as England and the United States, among others.[2] With no hope of escape while out at sea, some workers suffer physical, sexual, and mental abuse.[3]

Although the majority of sea life consumed by people in the United States comes from overseas, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S., with a fatality rate that is 23 times higher than for all other workers. Sinking vessels are the number-one cause of death followed by workers falling overboard.[4] But there are also dangers on land for workers. Conditions for foreign-born workers employed by the U.S. “seafood” processing industry often resemble those endured by migrant workers in agricultural fields and slaughterhouses, including wage theft, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, crowded living conditions, and threats of being reported to immigration authorities.[5]

These are but a few examples of how the commercial fishing industry exploits and abuses workers. We will have more details soon as we expand this section.


[1] Blood and Water: Slavery in the Fishing Industry Revealed,

[2] Global Slavery Index,

[3] Blood and Water: Slavery in the Fishing Industry Revealed,

[4] Fatal Falls Overboard in Commercial Fishing — United States, 2000–2016,

[5] Migrant workers in US seafood industry exposed to forced labor conditions, and American Seafood Has Its Own Forced Labor Problem,