For Immediate Release, August 10, 2015

Joanna Nasar, (415) 488-7711,
Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,
Kimiko Martinez, (310) 434-2344,

Feds Propose New Rules to Protect Whales, Dolphins in Other Countries

Regulations Will Prohibit Seafood Imports That Don’t Meet U.S. Standards for Marine Mammal Protection

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed major regulations prohibiting the import of seafood into the United States from fisheries that kill whales and dolphins in excess of U.S. standards. Under the new rules, all fisheries worldwide will have to comply with essentially the same marine mammal protection requirements as U.S. fishermen or face an embargo from the lucrative U.S. seafood market.

“The new regulations will force countries to meet U.S. conservation standards if they want access to this market, saving thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’ ”

Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear. These animals are unintentional “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries.

“Many people are unaware of the carnage caused by poorly regulated foreign fisheries,” said Zak Smith, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “With good rules, we can put our money where our mouths — and hearts — are, leveling the playing field for American fisherman who are already working to reduce bycatch and spreading protections for marine mammals worldwide. Whales and dolphins have suffered long enough.”

Since 1972 the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act has prohibited the United States from allowing seafood to enter the country unless it meets U.S. whale and dolphin standards. But for the past 40 years, the federal government has largely ignored the ban. In 2014 the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed suit in the Court of International Trade to enforce the import requirement, and today’s regulations were proposed pursuant to the resulting settlement.

“The public demands and the U.S. can — and by law, must — wield its tremendous purchasing power to save dolphins and whales from foreign fishing nets,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We have the right to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is caught in ways that minimize the death and injury of marine mammals.”

Despite U.S. efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, fishing gear continues to pose the most significant threat to whale and dolphin conservation worldwide. For example, the critically imperiled vaquita — the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise — is being driven extinct by gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. The most recent scientific estimates suggest that only around 50 vaquita remain. But under these new regulations, shrimp from this region would be barred from entering the United States if Mexico does not meet the more protective U.S. marine mammal protection standards. These standards may include modifying fishing gear and closing fishing in some areas to limit the risk of entanglement.

Americans consume 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, including tuna, swordfish, shrimp and cod. About 90 percent of that seafood is imported, and about half is wild-caught.

See the Proposed Rule by clicking here (pdf).


Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 150,000+ members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. Visit us at Visit our online ‘Got Mercury’ at to find out how much mercury is in your seafood.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 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, Bozeman, Montana, and Beijing.
Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.