How the socio-cultural practices of fishing obscure micro-disciplinary, verbal and psychological abuse of migrant fishers in North East Scotland.

Natalie Djohari, Carole White

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In recent decades, part of the UK fishing industry has become increasingly reliant on migrant crew, to fill local crew shortages. With restricted immigration status and invisibility on vessels out at sea, crews are vulnerable to both extreme and mundane forms of control and exploitation. Although the UK is legally addressing the potential for trafficking and forced labour across the fishing industry, more needs to be done to address the potential for micro-disciplinary, psychological, and verbal abuse of non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) crew which remains difficult to evidence. This requires recognition of how non-EEA migrant fishers are made vulnerable by the intersection of socio-cultural practices of fishing with a visa system that anchors immigration status to named vessels, limits movements, and makes changing employers or raising complaints difficult. Taking the 2020 prosecution of a Scottish skipper for abusing Filipino crew as a discursive starting point, we explore how differences in local interpretation of fishing relationships, by skippers and non-EEA crew, reveal limited agreement over what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Drawing on fieldwork in North East Scotland, we argue that the white noise of coarse language, ‘alpha male’ behaviours, and narratives of risk and responsibility that dominate local fishing practice, when combined with scant appreciation of how non-EEA migrant experiences differ from other crew, can serve to obscure migrant crew’s experiences of maltreatment. Greater attention is consequently required to vernacularise migrant crew rights, by making them locally meaningful so that both skippers and crew adequately recognise their responsibility to safeguard non-EEA crew.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19–34
Number of pages16
JournalMaritime Studies
Early online date10 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • migrant labour
  • abuse
  • fishing
  • labour rights
  • coastal transformations
  • Abuse
  • Coastal transformations
  • Labour rights
  • Fishing
  • Migrant labour

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