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Federal Government Takes First Step Towards Banning Imported Swordfish to Protect Marine Mammals

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it will develop regulations aimed at banning imports of seafood from countries that fail to adequately protect marine mammals from being captured and killed by fisheries. The announcement 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.

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.

“The U.S. government could have saved the lives of millions of innocent marine mammals if they had enforced this ignored provision,” said Dr. Chris Pincetich of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “I hope to see a swift and effective ban on swordfish imports from foreign nations that are needlessly harming marine mammals and sea turtles.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the U.S. government to ban any seafood imports from countries that harm or kill marine mammals in numbers that exceed U.S. standards. While this law has been in place for decades, the U.S. government has not made efforts to implement it until now. The proposed rulemaking marks the first step toward determining which countries violate U.S. protective standards for marine mammals and which imports must be banned.

“Most consumers have no idea that the imported swordfish on their plate comes with a side of dead dolphins, whales, seals, or sea lions,” said Andrea Treece, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States must lead the way toward more sustainable international fisheries. New regulations will encourage foreign fishing fleets to clean up their acts while ensuring that U.S. consumers aren’t unintentionally harming the creatures they care about.”

The United States is the one of the world’s top importers of swordfish, bringing in more than 20 million pounds every year. However, the U.S. government has allowed the importation of swordfish from more than 40 countries without requiring any proof that their fishery impacts on marine mammals met U.S. legal standards.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act was designed to help ensure that U.S. fishers are not put at a competitive disadvantage compared to poorly regulated foreign fleets and to put market pressure on foreign nations to improve their fishing practices to reduce impacts on marine mammals. Banning swordfish imports, as requested in the petition that prompted this action, would not only better protect marine mammals, but also benefit endangered sea turtles that are captured and killed in gillnets and longlines set to catch swordfish – a primary cause of the decline and near-extinction of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle.

The government is accepting comments on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the next 60 days.

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. Headquartered in California, with offices in Texas and Costa Rica, TIRN is dedicated to swift and decisive action to protect and restore marine species and their habitats and to inspire people in communities all over the world to join us as active and vocal marine species advocates. For more information, 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.