The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released a report claiming in order to put wild seafood on dinner tables, more than 650,000 marine mammals are killed or seriously injured every year in foreign fisheries, and enforcement of a U.S. law to protect marine mammals could help prevent tens of thousands of these deaths.
Net Loss: The Killing of Marine Mammals in Foreign Fisheries finds that 91 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported and nearly every foreign fish product sold in the U.S. violates a federal marine mammal protection law. Shrimp, tuna, crab, lobster, and salmon present a particularly significant risk to marine mammals due to the dangerous fishing practices associated with them abroad.
The report examines the “failure of the U.S. government to enforce protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” It identifies the primary species and populations at risk of extinction that would be helped by enforcement of the U.S. import protections law, the key fishing practices that endanger marine mammals and regions of the world where bycatch is a critical concern.
“No one wants their shrimp cocktail to come with a side of dolphin, but that’s essentially what’s happening when we eat imported fish that isn’t held to the same standard as American seafood,” said Zak Smith, attorney with NRDC and co-author of the report. “For 40 years, federal watchdogs have failed to enforce a law that could save thousands of whales and dolphins from negligent foreign fishing practices. At the same time, well-meaning U.S. fishermen are being undermined by their own government, which holds them accountable, but not their foreign counterparts.”
Species most affected by seafood exports for American markets:
•    North Atlantic right whale: at risk from Canada’s lobster and crabbing practices
•    New Zealand sea lion: at risk from New Zealand’s squid industry
•    Mediterranean sperm whale: at risk from Italy & Turkey’s lack of enforcement
•    Vaquita: at risk from shrimp fisheries not complying with Mexico’s regulations
•    Spinner dolphins: at risk from India and Sri Lanka’s tuna industry
•    Baltic and Black Sea harbor porpoises: at risk from inadequate regulatory measures
•    J-Stock minke whale: at risk from a range of Japanese and South Korean fishing practices
•    False killer whale: at risk from Pacific Ocean tuna, swordfish and marlin fishing practices
NRDC points to “smart and targeted” fishing methods including time and area exclusions, warning systems and gear modifications to reduce and risk harm to marine mammals as opposed to fishing gear such as gillnets, purse seines, trawls, bottom-set traps and longlines that “threaten marine mammals around the world.
The group also calls on consumers to do their part to protect marine mammals by purchasing American-caught seafood that abides by the U.S. safety standards
“It is time to enforce our laws protecting the world’s marine mammals,” said Smith. “American consumers and fishers as well as some of the world’s most unique and captivating creatures deserve no less. Fortunately, after years of neglect, the federal government is developing rules to enforce the provision. We need to hold them to it.”

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