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Seafood Expo with Taiwanese Fishermen Fighting for Wifi Rights At Sea

By Bruce Tran, Boyle Fellow

On March 3rd, 2024, I went to an event outside the annual seafood expo at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. It is here where I met up with an acquaintance who helped planned the whole event, Russ Davis from Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Not long after, we had security personnel from the building approach us asking what the gathering was about and demanded we leave. Based on the conversation, it appeared that while the building management and supervisors were already notified of our presence and cleared the event with the caveat that nothing that identified the building or the company brand be recorded in media; the rank-and-file security personnel were not aware. After a brief discussion with the on-scene supervisor and police officers, no further incident occurred. Out of all the executives or management that attended the expo, none seemed interested outside of one company’s diversity and inclusion representative who was there for the entire event taking pictures.

The guest speakers were workers from large corporations in the Pacific region that export seafood to countries like the United States at an attractive low value compared to local fishermen. It seems that due to differences in labor laws between the United States and other western countries, the South Asian fishermen experience workplace hazards that would otherwise be unacceptable. I can only assume that because of that, the exporting companies have lower operating costs compared to the more regulated standards that we have in the US, and thus more profit at the expense of the workers who in the fishermen’s’ words are “easily replaceable if they do not go back to work immediately.” Thus, they came to the seafood expo here in Boston to appeal to the consumers- the source of these companies’ revenue- to make them aware of the problems of the industry and appeal to them for help by being thoughtful on where they spend their money on seafood. This being Boston, a port city with a great love of seafood, it was a poignant and well thought out plan.

When it came time for the fishers from Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia to speak, they spoke of the dangers of fishing far from land in their native languages with an interpreter nearby. Some have experienced fishing lines that snapped and whipped into their eyes, others have had them cut through their body leaving gashes and wounds in their wake. Due to their lack of Wi-Fi access, they had no way to communicate their emergency while out at sea. When it came time to return to shore, the best they got from management was a three day leave to rest but no medical coverage to go to a hospital. With the previously mentioned threat of being fired and replaced by another willing worker, they were left with few choices if they wanted to support their families. As the event winded down, we thanked the guest speakers, and we parted ways. I took a moment to digest all that I had heard. Having a few friends and acquaintances in the local fishing industry, I thought it possible that the plight of these foreign fishermen could have easily applied to my friends and family as well, were it not for labor laws here in the United States. It really makes one wonder what sorts of trials and hardship have occurred for the food you buy at a supermarket to make it to your table from the other side of the world.

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