China and the economics of seafood

When we moved to New England last year, I looked forward to eating more seafood, locally sourced. The first clue I had that my expectations were not grounded in reality was when I discovered that the cod in grocery stores was Alaskan/Pacific cod. Turns out, a lot of the seafood on your plate was likely sourced through Chinese fishing fleets whose crews are suffering from problematic labor practices.

“Fishermen, in particular, are falling sick with and dying from beriberi because they’re being compelled to spend longer and longer periods of time — often years — at sea in illegal and intolerable conditions.

“There is absolutely no reason people should be getting, much less dying from, this disease,” says Nicola Pocock, who teaches at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Beriberi fatality at sea is a red flag for severe neglect or captivity.”

“Much of this story concerns China and the labor practices of its distant-water fishing fleet, which are deeply problematic. But just about any American who eats seafood may also be implicated. More than 80 percent of the seafood eaten by Americans, including most likely the fish sticks, calamari, and tuna served at your favorite New England restaurant, is imported. Much of that has been either caught by Chinese ships — ships that are regularly engaging in the appalling practices that can cause beriberi to occur — or processed in China before it is sold in this country.”

Chinese outlaw fishing practices