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Second Outlaw Ocean Report Tackles Illegal Fishing and Labor Abuses from a Business and Technology Perspective

fishing boat storm
Photo by Frans Ruiter

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a complex, systemic issue with impacts that resonate through global supply chains and can particularly harm those most vulnerable: the workers on fishing vessels. The millions of tons of fish stolen each year result in a significant loss to the economies of coastal nations and a threat to food security for the billion people who depend on fish for protein. Vessels that fish illegally often engage in labor abuses, including everything from substandard working conditions to modern slavery, prompting a human rights crisis.

Global seafood companies are mobilizing to remove illegal fishing practices from their supply chains. Similarly, labor rights organizations are investigating advanced technology tools and mechanisms that can enable them to eliminate labor abuses and forced labor on fishing vessels. Both actors face daunting challenges.

“Look at a map of the planet and you see mostly blue; the immensity of the sea is what makes it so tough to police and protect,” writes New York Times bestselling author Ian Urbina, in his book titled The Outlaw Ocean. Addressing these dual issues of illegal fishing and labor abuses in fisheries requires inventive solutions that engage a multitude of stakeholders and incorporate diverse perspectives.

In Fall of 2020, the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) and the Stanford Law School (SLS) Law & Policy Lab teamed up to teach a second iteration of the “The Outlaw Ocean” course, the title for which was inspired by Urbina’s book. The course immersed students in collaborative and interdisciplinary thinking to address issues of illegal fishing and labor abuses in seafood supply chains. It brought together students from across Stanford, calling on their varied academic backgrounds and expertise in international policy, ocean science and management, and human rights law to develop innovative research papers. Those papers have now been published in “The Outlaw Ocean: Business and Technology Solutions that Address Illegal Fishing and Labor Abuses in Seafood Supply Chains”, a cross-disciplinary report summarizing key takeaways from the research.

The students in “The Outlaw Ocean” worked in two different research groups, each paired with a different client. The first student group collaborated with Global Fishing Watch to develop a tool that can illuminate IUU fishing risk and enable companies to address IUU fishing within their supply chain. The second student group, while working with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, designed an app called FLOAT (Fisheries Labor Open Accountability Tool) aimed at increasing transparency and information accessibility for fishing workers and other actors in supply chains, with the goal of reducing labor abuses at sea.

For the course, students interviewed almost 20 experts- who brought perspectives from industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector- and conducted legal and policy analyses. Over the course of ten weeks, they refined their research questions and incorporated feedback from the teaching team and project advisors into the finished products.

"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 Professor Janet Martinez, co-lead of “The Outlaw Ocean” course and the Faculty Director of the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program at the Stanford Law School.

This publication builds on the first The Outlaw Ocean Report, issued in September 2020 and based on the work completed by student researchers in the inaugural "The Outlaw Ocean" Policy Practicum in Spring 2020. Both iterations of the course thus far have been taught virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring the teaching team, students, clients, and guest speakers to be creative and adaptive. COS and SLS plan to teach “The Outlaw Ocean” again in Fall 2021.


Access the full report >

Access the first The Outlaw Ocean Report >

Learn more about "The Outlaw Ocean" course>

Learn more about our work addressing illegal fishing and labor abuses in the seafood industry >

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