The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is aware of and concerned about allegations regarding working conditions on commercial fishing vessels. DLNR is also aware of efforts by various government agencies and the industry itself to investigate these allegations and take appropriate actions.
On September 21, 2016, five people submitted a petition to the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) requesting rule amendments relating to commercial marine licensing (CML) procedures. These proposed amendments relate to the issuance of the CML to foreign nationals who are hired on Hawaii-based longline vessels who land their catches in Hawaii. The domestic longline fleet is State’s largest fishery in terms of landings (pounds) and ex-vessel value (dollars). Last year, longliners landed 34 million pounds with an ex-vessel value of $94.2 million.
DLNR Division of Aquatics (DAR) administrator, Dr. Bruce Anderson explained, “The petition’s amendments appear to focus on labor issues that are not part of DLNR’s jurisdiction.” DLNR does issue CMLs to individuals who conduct fishing activities in marine waters (regardless if caught within or outside state waters) and the marine life is landed in Hawaii for commercial purposes. Applicants for the CML are required to provide relevant information on, among other things, identity and immigration status. Applicants who are foreign nationals must provide their passports and the Dept. of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection (CBP) form I-95 ‘Crewman’s Landing Permit’ as qualifying documents.
DLNR provides the documents to the applicant to sign, and their signature indicates their agreement to the CML terms and conditions. The terms and conditions pertain to fishing for marine life for commercial purpose. Other terms relate to non-transferability, lawful admittance into the U.S., license fees, and fishing report requirements.
The DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) conducts boardings of commercial fishing vessels independently and jointly as part of a Joint Enforcement Agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Crew members who don’t have valid CMLs can be warned or cited. Acting DOCARE Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla said, “We have cited crew members for not possessing a CML and since many crew members do not have entry visas, the owner or captain of their vessel has to coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for court appearances and to ensure compliance with federal laws.
DOCARE does not have the authority to investigate immigration and labor issues. Our main focus is enforcement of state laws and rules relating to the State’s natural resources.
“While we are clearly concerned about recent media reports regarding working conditions on fishing vessels, our responsibilities currently involve enforcing DAR CML rules and any violations associated with the Joint Enforcement Agreement with NOAA,” concluded Anderson.
The BLNR is scheduled to consider the petition during its meeting on Friday.