Foreign Swordfish Fleets Kill Marine Mammals in Excess of U.S. Standards

SAN FRANCISCO- The Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned the U.S. government today to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and impose a ban on imported swordfish until exporting countries provide proof that their fishing practices are at least as protective of marine mammals as those used by U.S. commercial fishers. View the petition below.

The MMPA requires the U.S. government to obtain proof from any country wishing to export fish or fish products to the United States that the country’s fishing practices do not harm or kill marine mammals in excess of U.S. standards. This provision of the MMPA is to ensure that highly-regulated U.S. fishers are not put at a competitive disadvantage to poorly-regulated foreign fleets. Nevertheless, despite the fact that most swordfish is caught with longline and driftnet fishing gear that entangles and kills thousands of marine mammals annually, the U.S. government illegally imports swordfish from over forty countries without requiring any proof of impacts on marine mammals.

“Foreign longline and driftnet fisheries for swordfish are a disaster for marine mammals, not to mention seabirds and sea turtles” said Mike Milne of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Until the US government obeys its own law, the onus is on the public to save thousands of whales, dolphins, and seals every year by avoiding foreign-caught swordfish.”

The U.S. is the one of the world’s top importers of swordfish, bringing in over 20 million pounds every year. Singapore is the largest source of swordfish imported by the U.S., even though Singapore does not have its own swordfish fleet, relying instead on poorly-documented catch from Taiwan and other nations. Similarly, Panama, a flag-of-convenience country with virtually no fisheries regulation, is the second largest source of imported swordfish. All in all, the U.S. imports swordfish from nearly four dozen countries, even though none has provided the proof required under the MMPA.

“Right now most consumers have no clue that the swordfish steak on their plate comes with a giant helping of dead dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions. And the federal government has no idea how many of these animals are dying each year in order flood the U.S. market with cheap imported swordfish,” said Andrea Treece, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Domestic swordfish fishers use longlines, driftnets and harpoons to catch swordfish. While U.S. longlines and driftnets still catch unacceptably high numbers of marine mammals, regulations imposing time-area closures and requiring the use of net-extenders, acoustic deterrents, dehooking devises, and various safe-handling measures have substantially reduced marine mammal bycatch and mortality in U.S. fisheries. A harpoon fishery for swordfish in southern California has no marine mammal bycatch.

“The U.S. has the ability to save marine mammals around the globe by simply refusing to import seafood products caught by unsustainable methods. It’s time to put that consumer power to work for the sake of the many species harmed by foreign swordfish fisheries.” added Treece.