Revealing the horrors of a ‘Shadow Armada’

Oct 25, 2023 | Over the Bar

Over the Bar

Christopher Seufert photo

By John Pappalardo

Our mantra here at the Fishermen’s Alliance is that when it comes to fishing, and eating fish, local is where it’s at.

We make the case all kinds of ways:

We know that our fish is the healthiest and best in the world.

We know it is caught by men and women who live among us, friends and neighbors who make our communities stronger with their participation and economic input.

We know that the historic fishing fleet thinks about tomorrow as well as yesterday and today, believes in habitat protection and what they call “sustainability,” would love to see the next generation harvest the seas.

We know the work is hard, sometimes dangerous, but people are paid for what they do, respected for the effort, and have options, career and growth opportunities.

Yes, we know that sometimes local fish is more expensive, and that makes it harder for consumers to make the choice. We sympathize, but we understand why.

We also understand that local fishing captains and crews take pretty much all of the risk, but don’t take all of the profit. So we continue to do what we can to make the industry more equitable, more diverse, more homegrown.

Then along comes yet more proof that local is the way, proof we wish didn’t exist.

Earlier this month The New Yorker Magazine, in partnership with a group called the Outlaw Ocean Project, published a very lengthy article, four years of research and investigation in the making, that exposes what they call “the shadow armada,” Chinese fishing vessels that roam the world.

These factory trawlers stay out month after month, in this case targeting and processing squid world-wide. The working conditions are forced labor, captivity approaching slavery, virtual kidnapping, documented cases of what can only be called torture and even murder.

And wherever they go, they rape the ocean.

This lawless, brutal fleet is the biggest in the world, owned and operated by Chinese state-sponsored corporations. Flung across the seas, the fleet also has another apparent purpose; provide military intelligence to that government.

The reporting — painstaking, dangerous — is so horrifying that it’s difficult to read. It is both personal, following the lives (and deaths) of people who have become captives in this system, bringing us onto dark decks of huge factory trawlers, then broadly showing how a multi-national economic structure creates demand and profit for this exploitation.

It is horrifying, so disturbing that I hesitate to recommend a read. But I will because I must:

Like I said, we don’t need this kind of reality to make the case for buying local. Our reasons, based on and in our own communities, are more than enough. Were all the world like us, relying on independent fishermen and families, small boats that honor a tradition, we would still advocate just as hard for what we stand for, and celebrate our compatriots wherever they work.

But understanding that horror like this still exists, and knowing that one of the few ways to stop it is by choking off demand and profit from their human rights and environmental atrocities, only adds to our commitment.

Buy local.

John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance



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