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Congress Calls for Quick Action on New Fishery Rules for Imported Seafood

A Win-Win for American Fishermen and Marine Mammals

Washington, D.C. –  More than a dozen Congressional Representatives from key coastal fishing states are urging federal fishery managers to move quickly on new rules to ensure that imported seafood meets the same bycatch standards as U.S. fishermen to protect whales, seals and other marine mammals. Download the letter.

New imported seafood regulations now being developed by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will require foreign nations that import fish into the U.S market to reduce their fishing fleets’ incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals to levels comparable with domestic fisheries as mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“It is more important than ever that we equally work to protect both the interests of our domestic fisheries and decrease harmful bycatch of our ocean’s marine mammals” said Congressman Sam Farr (D-Monterey), who circulated the Congressional letter. “I am encouraged that NMFS has begun to move on regulations that will hold seafood imports to domestic standards, as well as increase the protection of the world’s ocean mammals.”

Congressional members who signed the letter were: Sam Farr D – CA, Anna Eshoo D – CA, Earl Blumenauer   D – OR, Mazie K. Hirono D- HI, Madeline Bordallo D – GU, Walter Jones R – NC, Lois Capps D – CA, Barbara Lee D – CA, Lloyd Doggett D – TX, Jim McDermott D – WA, George Miller D-CA, Lynn Woolsey D – CA, Pete Stark  D – CA, David Wu D – OR, Mike Thompson D – CA, Barney Frank D – MA.

“Fishing by the same rules is a win-win for fishermen and marine animals,” said Teri Shore, Program Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Our fisheries along with the oceans will benefit if overseas fleets follow the same rules and stop capturing whales, sea turtles and other endangered ocean wildlife.”

“Swordfish or tuna on your plate may lead to a death by a thousand hooks for dolphins, whales, and sea lions,” said Miyoko Sakashita oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. must encourage foreign fishing fleets to clean up their act and let marine mammals off the hook.”

“For years, hundreds of thousands of marine mammals have met their untimely deaths at the end of a hook and throes of a net,” said Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney for NRDC.  “Until now, we’ve been endorsing a double standard regarding seafood caught domestically and what is imported. Unless we actually obey the law and adopt rules to ensure our imported seafood meets the same bycatch standards we hold domestic seafood to, we will continue to undermine our global efforts to protect marine mammals.”

Right now, the dozens of nations that export wild-captured fish such as swordfish and tuna to the U.S. have never proven that their fishing practices protect marine mammals as required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.   Specifically, Section 101(a)(2) of the MMPA [ 16 U.S.C. § 1371(a)(2)], requires that the U.S. “ban the importation of commercial fish or fish products that have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of marine mammals in excess of United States standards.”

Evidence shows that foreign fishing fleets kill hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. Swordfish fleets, which use gillnets and longlines, are particularly deadly and kill an estimated 300,000 marine mammals each year, according to researchers at Duke University.

An advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to define U. S. standards and describe procedures for enforcing those standards for protecting marine mammals under the MMPA was published on April 30, 2010. The deadline for public comment was extended to Aug. 30, 2010.  Federal fishery managers are now reviewing comment and preparing begin formal rulemaking.

The rulemaking process resulted from a formal legal petition filed in 2008 by the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Center for Biological Diversity seeking enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and an immediate ban on swordfish imports. The rulemaking is broader and seeks to establish and define U. S. standards for all imported seafood, which may take years. The Congressional letter was intended to help speed up the process and focus on the highest bycatch foreign seafood, including swordfish and tuna.

Dolphin protection is covered under separate international and U. S. “dolphin-safe” laws as is the capture of sea turtles in shrimp trawls and use of Turtle Excluder Devices.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is an environmental organization working to protect and restore endangered marine species and the marine environment on which we all depend. Visit www.SeaTurtles.org and www.TIRN.net

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. See www.biologicaldiversity.org

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org