There is a human tragedy happening on the high seas, and it is time the United States took action to address it.
According to the 2013 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, illegal fishing vessels on the high seas are doing more than just fishing outside the law. The report cites increasing evidence that these vessels are associated with other types of crime, including human and sex trafficking.
These rogue fishing boat operators hire laborers with promises of legitimate, fairly compensated employment. But once at sea, the laborers quickly learn they will be paid poorly -- if at all -- and subject to horrific work conditions and brutal treatment.
A 2009 survey by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking found that 59 percent of migrant workers trafficked aboard Thai fishing vessels had witnessed the murder of a fellow worker.
Drug cartels frequently use illegal fishing vessels to smuggle illicit drugs, some of them traveling through U.S. waters and into our country, according to the State Department and U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has specifically noted that Mexican cartels use illegal boats called "lanchas" to smuggle drugs into the U.S.
The illegal fishing occurring in U.S. waters has many victims: Honest U.S. fishermen and the fisheries they depend on for their livelihood are directly threatened when illegal fishers poach from our waters. Worldwide, scientists estimate that up to $23.5 billion in wild-caught fish are taken illegally every year. This equates to about 108,000 pounds of illegal fish per minute.
Globally, illegal fishing operations are landing five times more fish than the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry catches annually. The value of their illegal catch is greater than Wal-mart's annual profit.
There has also been a rise in the number of incidents of Mexican lanchas fishing illegally in U.S. waters, specifically in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard has called these incursions "a direct and persistent challenge to U.S. sovereignty [that] threaten our carefully calculated fisheries management efforts."
Why is this important to land-locked Tennessee? Because Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and could lead the U.S. Senate to a solution that would protect U.S. interests and turn up the heat on foreign illegal fishers and other criminals roaming the high seas.
With Sen. Corker's support, the United States could be on the way to ratifying the Port States Measures Agreement. This agreement was crafted to help port officials identify illegally caught fish and deny port access to the vessels carrying it. If illegal fishers have no way to move their ill-gotten product to market, and if they are denied access to services and supplies in ports, they will not survive.
By helping authorities clamp down on illegal fishing, the Port State Measures Agreement could also reduce affiliated criminal activity, including the human rights abuses and drug trafficking that illicit fishers are known to commit.
Sen. Corker is a proven leader. We have come to count on him to speak up on issues that matter. When he speaks, his colleagues listen.
Please join me in calling on Sen. Corker to support the Port State Measures Agreement. By taking this stand on illegal fishing we can protect U.S. interests and jobs, and help stamp out the alarming criminal activity occurring at sea.
Susan Moses owns the 212 Market Restaurant in Chattanooga.