Overfishing and Modern-Day Slavery

Tufts Now All Stories

You’re about to make a sandwich with canned albacore tuna today, and thinking that it’s all a good thing—nutritionists talk about the health benefits of eating more seafood, after all. One thing you probably didn’t think about is where exactly that tuna come from.For Jessica Sparks, that’s a crucial question. A 2014 graduate of the master’s in conservation medicine program at Cummings School and current program faculty member, she researches the links between overfishing and forced labor and slavery.
She’s found that fish-stock declines may lead to growth in slavery on the open seas—and, perversely, that forced labor reinforces the over-fishing that’s destroying the marine life in world’s oceans. She has made the research her calling, hoping it will lead to policies that better conserve marine populations worldwide and alleviate the plight of the many thousands of enslaved modern workers living in often brutal conditions.
Before coming to Tufts, Sparks was a clinical social worker working with child sexual-abuse victims, teenagers suspected of being trafficked for sex, and victims of mass acts of violence, among others. Burnt out after a decade of social work, she reached back to a childhood passion for wildlife conservation and came to Cummings School.
As part of the M.S. in conservation medicine program, Sparks did an externship in China, working with an expert in panda conservation. There, she learned of a doctoral program at the University of Denver in sustainability and global studies, with a concentration in conservation and social justice. Intrigued, Sparks thought it was a natural next step to build on the issues she studied at Cummings and her background in social work.
Just as she was starting the Ph.D. program, explosive investigative reports came out revealing how the fishing industry, especially in Southeast Asia, relied on modern-day slavery: men coerced …

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