A year-long AP investigation reveals the global fish market feeds off a robust slave fishing trade benefitting everyone involved except the slaves, who are reportedly kept in cages and whipped with toxic fish when they get tired. Sounds pretty bad!

So how does the free-labor fish get into your cat food and onto your dinner table? The AP managed to get inside one fishing operation, where the slaves—usually Burmese citizens—are forced to live in cages on a "tiny tropical island" in Indonesia called Benjina. Despite days spent catching food, they are not allowed to eat the fish, which is apparently deemed too valuable for them.

The slaves interviewed by the AP described 20- to 22-hour shifts and unclean drinking water. Almost all said they were kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing.

Runaway Hlaing Min said many died at sea.

"If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us. There must be a mountain of bones under the sea," he said. "The bones of the people could be an island, it's that many."

And according to the AP, there's no question that the slave-caught fish is everywhere: during the year-long investigation, they claim they tracked several hauls via satellite that ended up at processing plants supplying global distributers.

Inside those plants, representatives told AP journalists that they sold seafood to other Thai processors and distributors. US Customs bills of lading identify specific shipments from those plants to American firms, including well-known brand names.

That fish was then reportedly sold to cat food brands like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix, and Iams, human brands like Chicken of the Sea, and grocers like Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway.

Indonesian Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti tells the AP she wants to stop the slave trade but is finding it hard to get support: "She added that campaigns to save wildlife get far more attention than abuse involving humans at sea."

[h/t AP, screenshot via AP]

Contact the author at gabrielle@gawker.com