U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard each said Wednesday that they were “disturbed” by the conditions that Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet is subjecting its predominantly foreign workforce.

In separate statements, the Hawaii lawmakers called for a review of the labor practices that the Associated Press detailed in a Sept. 8 report stemming from a six-month investigation — although Gabbard said it’s a problem that’s been “ignored for years.”

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono a
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono along with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, not pictured, say they are disturbed by the reported labor practices of Hawaii’s longline fishermen. U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono

“In addition to working on expeditiously and independently confirming the veracity of the reports, I have directed my staff to do a comprehensive review of what available tools the Coast Guard as well as the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security have under current law to ensure the safety, human rights, and dignity of these crewmen,” Schatz said.

“The crew on these vessels need immediate protections, which is why we are working with the administration to develop a decisive, aggressive, and appropriate response in addition to researching legislative options,” he added.

Hirono said she is engaging “the full range of stakeholders” to assess the extent of the problem and how to address it.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard House floor Modi speaks1. 8 june 2016
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on the House floor in June. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“It is completely unacceptable that the inhumane treatment of any workers — foreign or not — is legal under U.S. federal law,” she said. “I welcome the industry’s initial steps to respond to this unacceptable situation, and am encouraged they are taking this seriously. I am committed to finding solutions that improve conditions for workers across the fleet and recognize the role industry can play in addressing this matter.”

Hirono had been fighting behind the scenes for the fishing industry, urging the Obama administration to help the longliners haul in more ahi since they have hit their quota limit the past few years well before the end of the year.

Hirono also proposed an amendment that would have allowed the foreign fishermen working on the Hawaii longline boats to fly into the country. It hasn’t passed, but it was aimed at addressing a system that allows the workers to exit the United States with a transit visa but doesn’t let them arrive that way.

“The AP’s report that hundreds of foreign workers are being subjected to human rights abuses and inhumane conditions just off our shores is deeply disturbing,” Gabbard said.

“This is a problem that has been ignored for years, and must be immediately addressed,” she said. “We are working with major stakeholders to determine the most expedient course of action to put an end to this unacceptable situation, and protect the safety and human rights of these crewmen, making sure that fair labor standards are enforced for all workers.”

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