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California Legislature Urges Ban on Swordfish Imports to Protect Whales, Dolphins and Marine Mammals

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Yesterday, the California Legislature urged an immediate ban on imports of swordfish caught in gear that does not protect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals as required under the U. S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

State lawmakers passed Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 8, authored by Assemblymember Bill Monning (D-Carmel), requesting that National Marine Fisheries Service provide proof as required by law from any country that sells fish products to the United States that their fishing practices do not harm or kill marine mammals. The U.S. government has failed for 35 years to document this proof, despite evidence showing that foreign fishing fleets capture and kill hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year.

“By enforcing existing law, the federal government will not only encourage importers of swordfish to reduce their marine mammal bycatch but will also level the playing field for domestic swordfish fishermen who must follow our laws,” said Assemblymember Monning. “AJR 8 sends a strong message to the federal government to do the right thing.” The bill was supported by Democrats and some Republicans, see the vote.

“There’s no reason for whales, dolphins, and seals to die so we can eat swordfish,” said Teri Shore, Program Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, the sponsor of AJR 8. “Swordfish fleets can use better gear and reduce the death toll.”

The legislation supports the need for action on a pending petition to the government requesting the ban under the MMPA by Turtle Island Restoration Network that attracted more than 45,000 responses to a public comment period that ended in March 2009. See the petition.

Scientists estimate that global fisheries catch about 300,000 marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions, each year. Foreign swordfish fleets, which generally use gillnets and longlines, are particularly deadly to marine mammals.

The MMPA was designed to ensure that U.S. fishers are not put at a competitive disadvantage to poorly-regulated foreign fleets, and to put market pressure on foreign nations to reduce impacts on marine mammals. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has allowed the importation of swordfish from more than 40 countries without requiring any proof of impacts on marine mammals. AJR 8 was approved with the goal of building momentum to change federal policy and allow domestic swordfish fishermen and women to compete on an even playing field with foreign importers of swordfish, as well as to protect marine mammals around the world.