What type of seafood is morally acceptable?

Do you like cod, shrimp, salmon, crab or pollock (also called fish fingers)? Of course you do. Do you shop for fish at Walmart, Costco, Kroger, or Albertsons? Who does not? Are you eating at one of the more than 400,000 restaurants that grocer Sysco serves? Pretty sure.

If so, you have likely been served or sold seafood caught by Indonesian victims of forced labor on Chinese ships or processed in China by Uyghurs, a cultural, racial and religious minority that faces systematic oppression. some 79% of seafood sold is imported into the United States, according to the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. China alone delivers almost 10% of American seafood imports.

Chinese-owned and flagged vessels are the largest long-distance fishing fleet in the world. This fleet includes an estimated 6,500 vessels that fish in all oceans. To put this fleet into context, neither Japan nor the United States has more than 1,000 such ships.

Some of these ocean-going vessels stay at sea for up to two years, transferring their catches to other vessels to bring to port. Living and working conditions for workers trapped on board are often terrible, with inadequate medical treatment, poor nutrition and tireless, dangerous work day and night.

A well-managed and rich ocean could feed a billion people A healthy seafood meal every day and forever. Overfishing, particularly by large industrial fleets, is destroying this abundance – and leading to the collapse of a natural food source that is essential to the health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people along coasts around the world.

A four-year investigation of long-distance industrial fishing by the Outlaw Ocean Project, published this week in the Los Angeles Times, uncovered evidence of human rights abuses and violent and deadly conditions. These conditions, tolerated in an industry that puts food on American tables, require immediate action.

There are several policy changes that would alter the practices of the world’s fishing fleets and impact the wealth of our oceans.

For example, the World Trade Organization should stop subsidizing countries overfishing our oceans. These harmful subsidies encourage overfishing by allowing fleets to fish longer, more intensively and further than would otherwise be economically possible. The United States should deny countries access to the American market unless imported seafood is accompanied by documentation proving it was entirely sourced without forced labor.

Another key change would be for the United States to expand mandatory disclosure of country of origin labeling for seafood beyond grocery stores to include restaurants, small markets and cafeterias. All countries whose vessels fish on the high seas or in foreign waters should be required to publish data on which vessels are allowed to fish what, where and when, and tracking of these vessels should be made publicly available.

While changes to international regulations may be more difficult, improvements to U.S. maritime regulations could be implemented more quickly. For example, President Biden could mandate that all seafood sold in the U.S. be subject to boat-to-plate traceability to ensure it is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and properly labeled.

In the meantime, American consumers need to be more selective when purchasing seafood. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide can help steer buyers toward environmentally sustainable options, such as those that are well managed and responsibly caught or managed. The best choice is usually locally caught or farmed U.S. fish and shellfish. Making an informed decision about the seafood you buy may seem like a small step, but even that can make a big difference.

Andrew Sharpless is the executive director of Oceana, an international organization focused on ocean conservation.

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