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New report explores policy solutions to address illegal fishing and forced labor in the seafood industry

Largely out of sight, criminals pillage the oceans. They steal millions of tons of fish each year. That is a huge economic loss to coastal nations, estimated to be somewhere in the tens of billions of dollars. It is an even larger threat to food security; a billion people depend on fish as their source of protein, and in many of the countries that are most dependent, one fish in three is stolen. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing undermines governments’ efforts to manage their resources and undercuts the millions of fishers who are playing by the rules.

IUU fishing is also a human rights crisis. The vessels that fish illegally often carry slaves. Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped on boats, facing wanton brutality.

Addressing both of these issues requires inderdisciplinary, novel, and collaborative policy solutions that engage a multitude of stakeholders- from governments to companies to conservation groups- in supporting nations' efforts to combat these crimes.

The Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) and the Stanford Law School (SLS), Law & Policy Lab taught a collaborative course, "The Outlaw Ocean," in the Spring of 2020, and recently finalized a report showcasing key insights and findings from the course. Students brought their multidiscipinary expertise in law, policy, ocean science, and management to The Outlaw Ocean Policy Practicum, and produced the papers contained in this report.

The students worked in three small groups to investigate questions posed by the clients. Two groups concentrated on addressing challenges associated with satellite data-sharing policies and port inspection systems, in collaboration with Global Fishing Watch. The third group worked with COS and the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice to explore a key policy mechanism for tackling forced labor in the seafood industry- the International Labor Organization treaty "C188".

"These are intricate and difficult questions," explained Jim Leape, COS co-director and course co-lead. "They took the students into domains that were new for most of them, and into the complexities of legal regimes and administration in multiple countries.  Over the short span of the quarter, the students attacked these challenges with remarkable commitment and creativity, scouring public sources of information and interviewing a wide array of experts and actors."

The papers contained in the report are the product of the students' work conducting background research, analyzing legal documents and international agreeemnts, and interviewing over 30 experts who approach these issues from many different perspectives. The report also includes supplemental research papers, which touch on topics like China's distant water fishing fleet, data policy in South Korea, and corporiate liability for human rights abuses, written by three directed research students between the Winter and Spring quarters. The report and its contents will serve as an important tool and resource for the clients of The Outlaw Ocean course, as well as for future iterations of this policy practicum.

Janet Martinez, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program at Stanford Law School, and course co-lead, explained that "the resulting policy memos provide valuable insights into the lessons that can be drawn from the experiences of different countries, organizations, and actors and present innovative ideas for how those lessons can be applied. The report itself is an important contribution to the work of the clients and will be the foundation for a second edition of The Outlaw Ocean Policy Practicum."

Access the full report >

Learn more about the Outlaw Ocean course>

Learn more about our work combating illegal fishing >

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