A yellowfin tuna. (Bill Abbott / CC BY-SA 2.0)

An investigation by The Associated Press found that hundreds of foreign workers are employed catching fish off the coasts of Hawaii and California on boats they can’t leave.

Martha Mendoza and Margie Mason report at AP:

Hundreds of undocumented men are employed in this unique U.S. fishing fleet, due to a federal loophole that allows them to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the dangerous jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour.

With no legal standing on U.S. soil, the men are at the mercy of their American captains on American-flagged, American-owned vessels, catching prized swordfish and ahi tuna. Since they don’t have visas, they are not allowed to set foot on shore. The entire system, which contradicts other state and federal laws, operates with the blessing of high-ranking U.S. lawmakers and officials, an Associated Press investigation found.

The fleet of around 140 boats docks about once every three weeks, occasionally at ports along the West Coast, including Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but mainly at Piers 17 and 38 in Honolulu. Their catch ends up at restaurants and premium seafood counters across the country, from Whole Foods to Costco, and is touted by celebrity chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi and Masaharu Morimoto.

Americans buying Hawaiian seafood are almost certainly eating fish caught by one of these workers, who account for nearly all the fleet’s crew.

A single yellowfin tuna can fetch more than $1,000, and vendors market the catch as “sustainable seafood produced by Hawaii’s hard-working fishermen.”

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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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