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The Outlaw Ocean 2.0: Multidisciplinary Solutions to Challenges on the High Seas

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December 9, 2020 | Laura Anderson 

The second iteration of a collaborative course between the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and the Stanford Law School gives students the chance to explore innovative solutions to illegal fishing from a policy perspective.

Millions of tons of fish are stolen from the ocean each year, accounting for a huge economic loss to coastal and fishing nations. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing not only has damaging impacts on the economy, but also serves as a threat to global food security, where nearly one billion people rely on fish for their main source of protein. Fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing often engage in labor abuses including, exploitation, forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, and modern slavery. Crews can be trapped at sea for months or years at a time, working in grueling conditions and sometimes facing wanton brutality.

This fall, eight students from across a diversity of Stanford programs engaged in interdisciplinary research to address IUU fishing and forced labor challenges in supply chains. Together with teaching staff from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) and the Stanford Law School Law and Policy Lab, as well as international clients, the students brought science, policy, and law perspectives to real-world policy challenges.

This was the second quarter of The Outlaw Ocean policy practicum course, whose title was inspired by New York Times author Ian Urbina's investigative reporting on criminality and exploitation on the high seas. In Spring 2020, the first iteration of The Outlaw Ocean course allowed students to spend a full quarter focused on research questions related to satellite data-sharing policies, port inspection systems, and the International Labor Organization treaty "C188." A collaborative report highlighting these and other supplemental research efforts was released in September.

"The students were amazing," said Alfredo Giron, COS André Hoffmann Fellow and member of The Outlaw Ocean teaching team. "They were super outspoken and ready to take on this challenge."

The Outlaw Ocean course was supported in the fall by research assistant and Stanford Law School student Katelyn Masket. Masket took the course in the spring and contributed to the research policy memo "Policy Approaches to Addressing Forced Labor in Fisheries: Case Studies in Fiji and Indonesia." For the second iteration, she assisted the teaching team in identifying areas of research and potential legal questions.

The students were divided into two research teams. The first team focused on developing a data-driven IUU risk assessment tool to assist companies in identifying risk areas and addressing IUU fishing in their supply chains. The second team researched opportunities to use technology and digitization with the goal of addressing forced labor challenges related to contracts and payments.

The Policy Practicum structure provided students with an opportunity to work with client organizations in the seafood space. Global Fishing Watch, an international non-profit that specializes in cutting-edge technology that tracks global fishing activity, once again partnered with The Outlaw Ocean course on IUU fishing questions. This fall, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) joined as a client to collaborate on questions related to forced labor. It also provided industry perspectives on IUU fishing challenges and solutions. ISSF is a global non-profit partnership among leaders in the tuna industry — representing 70% of the canned tuna industry — with a mission to facilitate the long-term sustainable use of global tuna stocks. Through their engagement with ISSF, students also learned from industry actors like Bumble Bee Seafoods. COS has partnered with ISSF and Global Fishing Watch on previous and ongoing work developing solutions to address IUU fishing and labor abuses.

"These are complex and difficult questions," said COS co-director and course co-lead Jim Leape upon the release of the first Outlaw Ocean research report. "Students attacked these challenges with remarkable commitment and creativity, scouring public sources of information and interviewing a wide array of experts and actors."

The course, which met virtually on Wednesday mornings throughout the quarter, concluded with presentations by each of the research teams. Delivered to the teaching team, other policy practicum students, and clients, the presentations highlighted major takeaways from the quarter's research efforts and recommendations for future study.

Giron, who joined the teaching team after starting at COS in September 2020, emphasized the engagement of each student in the course. "I was absolutely amazed by how much they were asking and how deep their questions were. In ten weeks, they went from not having much direct experience with the research topics to having conversations with senior executives of companies about how to better manage their supply chains."

Below, meet the teaching team, and explore each student team's research on The Outlaw Ocean.

Kevin Chand

Kevin Chand, COS Early Career Law and Policy Fellow

Janet Martinez

Janet Martinez, Faculty Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program, Stanford Law School

"Leading these policy labs is a deeply stimulating experience for the faculty. We relish helping students integrate their interdisciplinary perspectives — from science, law, politics and human rights — and advance from theory to crafting effective policy," explained Janet Martinez, the Faculty Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program at the Stanford Law School.

The course was also supported by Dr. Luciana Herman, who serves as the program director for the Law and Policy Lab. Herman provided expertise in the development of the policy practicum and assistance to students writing and workshopping policy analysis papers.

Assessing IUU Fishing Risk

Developing an IUU Risk Assessment Tool: Enabling Seafood Companies to Address Risk in Supply Chains

Margaret Daly, PhD Candidate Civil and Environmental Engineering Rian Lawrence, MS Earth System Science Chloe Mikles, PhD Candidate Biology Elena Press, BS Candidate Earth Systems

IUU fishing is a pervasive and persistent problem that is difficult to regulate on a global scale. In the seafood sector, the combination of out-of-sight fishing for highly perishable and wild resources, paper-thin profit margins, and a lack of end-to-end traceability creates conditions where sourcing IUU products occurs regularly, and often with impunity. Seafood supply chains of major public-facing companies are a promising pressure point to target IUU fishing. However, there is currently no simple way to address IUU fishing in the seafood supply chain.

The research team partnered with Global Fishing Watch, whose efforts in tracking vessels and identifying likely transshipment behavior allow fine scale investigation into what were previously unidentifiable sources of IUU fishing activity. Over the course of the quarter, the team worked directly with companies to develop the framework for a tool that would illuminate IUU risk and enable companies to address IUU fishing within their supply chain. The team identified ten indicators for risk of IUU products through desk research and interviews with key stakeholder and IUU fishing experts.

The IUU risk assessment tool will use public and private data to generate risk scores based on how much information companies have about their own supply chains. Areas of high risk flagged by the tool will be accompanied by a Solutions Portfolio. Recognizing that companies have different thresholds of risk aversion and strategies to mitigate it, the tool will offer a suite of practical solutions.

"The course was an absolute highlight of my time at Stanford. It was wonderful working on an interdisciplinary team — and probably the only friends I’ve made in quarantine! The course provided a unique opportunity to engage with industry leaders, develop a deep understanding of ongoing efforts to combat IUU fishing and use our research findings to craft a tool that is easy to use, adaptable and helpful for companies."

Elena Press, Earth Systems BS Candidate

"I research coastal ocean fluid dynamics for my Ph.D. The laws that govern how water moves feel unconventional — water motion is ephemeral, difficult to solve, and challenging to predict. It’s striking to me that so many of these illusive problems are mirrored in IUU fishing, that the turbulence and chaos under the waves is reflected in the modus operandi at sea. From this experience, I'm thinking more about how to incorporate stakeholders and interested parties into my research to optimize its application and use."

Margaret Daly, Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD Candidate

"I come from a fisheries background, so I was really excited for the opportunity to work with the entire Outlaw Ocean team on an issue that is truly near to my heart. From our instructors, our clients and interviewees, and the IUU team, I learned so much about marine policy, seafood supply chains, and of course, IUU fishing. Working on IUU fishing risk in tuna supply chains has provided me a new perspective on policy and management, which I hope to carry forward in my dissertation work and future career."

Chloe Mikles, Biology PhD Candidate

Addressing Forced Labor in the Global Fishing Industry Through a Digitized Multi-User, App-Based Contracting and Payments System

Herber Banda, BS Candidate Earth Systems | Kyoughwa Lee, LLM Candidate Environmental Law and Policy | Tara Naoko Ohrtman, JD Candidate Stanford Law School | Jacqui Vogel, MS Candidate Earth Systems

The world’s fisheries continue to play an ever more important role in global food, nutrition and employment. In 2018, the global fisheries sector reached an all-time high of 96.4 million tonnes of fish capture. Increased captures are directly linked to growing consumption of seafood products, which accounted for 17% of global intake of animal protein in 2017. This continued growth is represented in the global seafood industry's estimated value, which by 2018, was about 164 billion USD. A multi-billion dollar industry, the fishing sector employs approximately 39 million laborers within capture fisheries.

However, decreasing revenues coupled with an ever increasing demand for seafood products has led to the exploitation and abuse of crew members in the seafood industry. This is systematically worsened through racism, xenophobia, and poverty experienced by many migrant laborers. IUU fishing—which can make up to 30% of all catches in some regions—only further exacerbates declining fish stock populations, driving up fuel costs as vessels stray further and further to meet their individual quotas. These costs are then typically sustained by migrant workers, who become victims of human rights abuses and exploitative working conditions. Given the remote nature of fishing vessels, it is difficult to track, quantify, and report abuse and forced labor that occurs at sea.

The research team attempted to use technology and digitization to create more transparency and accountability within the fisheries sector with the end goal of reducing forced labor and human rights abuses at sea. The team conceptualized an app called FLOAT (Fisheries Labor Open Accountability Tool) which digitizes the entire payments and contracting system to allow fishing laborers, vessel owners, seafood buyers, and all members of the seafood supply chain to have greater access to information and support.

"The Outlaw Ocean has been an incredible opportunity to foster cross-collaboration between parts of Stanford that otherwise wouldn't necessarily be working together. The intense interdisciplinary nature of this course is definitely something that I will try to emulate over the next year as I continue my own research in the ocean policy space."

Jacqui Vogel, Earth Systems MS Candidate

"This course was an enlightening experience as we designed a digital contract solution to combat forced labor in the fishing industry. Our team could pull this off through in-depth interviews and research. The experience will be a stepping stone to my future study in business and human rights."

Kyounghwa Lee, Environmental Law and Policy LLM Candidate

"Through a class like this, you learn that solutions need to be user-oriented. In the end, there are lanes of opportunity that you have to push through to solve complex problems. I am sure that this leaves a long-lasting impact on the students in the way they think about problems," said Giron.

Next Steps for The Outlaw Ocean

Research by the student teams will also serve as background and guidance for future COS efforts related to the Addressing Illegal Fishing and Labor Abuses initiative. With a broad coalition of industry actors, including clients of The Outlaw Ocean course, COS is engaging in work to identify high-risk ports for IUU fishing and develop tools that increase transparency and accountability in the recruitment of workers for tuna vessels.

"The inquisitive energy from the students has been captivating," said COS Research Development Manager Eric Hartge. "Fostering an opportunity to investigate these pervasive, systemic issues from multiple disciplinary perspectives has added significant value to our ongoing applied work."

The teaching team, students, and members of COS staff are now working to compile research findings from background desk research, international legal documents and expert interviews into a comprehensive report. The Outlaw Ocean 2.0 White Paper will be published in early 2021. It will be featured on the Outlaw Ocean report webpage and the Stanford Law School's Publications webpage. It will also be accessible through the Stanford Libraries as a public research report.

Thank you to the Outlaw Ocean teaching team, the Stanford Law School Law and Policy Lab, Global Fishing Watch, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, all of the interviewees who donated their time to this research, and our research assistants and student research teams.

Image Credits: Tom Fisk, The Outlaw Ocean Project