Sea Shepherd seeks US ban on New Zealand seafood imports due to concerns over endangered dolphin

Published on
July 6, 2020

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has filed an injunction in a lawsuit demanding the United States government ban seafood imports from New Zealand until it takes more decisive action to protect the endangered Māui dolphin.

In May, the environmental activist group and its legal co-counsel, Earthrise Law Center, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NOAA Fisheries, and the U.S. Treasury Department, alleging the agencies had failed to take legally required action under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to ban imports from the fisheries that threaten the continued existence of the Māui dolphin, of which it is believed only 57 individuals remain in the world.

A ruling on the injunction – which would impose an immediate ban as the case winds its way through the judicial system – could come within the next month, Sea Shepherd New Zealand Managing Director Michael Lawry. Lawry told New Zealand’s Newsroom his group is seeking more expansive protections for the Māui dolphin, including a ban on set-netting and trawling to depths of 100 meters in the Māui dolphin habitat off the west coast of the north island in New Zealand.

The existing Māui dolphin bycatch mitigation plan extends trawling bans in some of that area, but not to the 100-meter depth. Fishing vessels operating in the Māui dolphin habitat, operated by Sanford and Moana New Zealand, have also been required to carry on-board cameras and have enacted a “move-on approach” if they observe the endangered dolphin. But Sea Shepherd Legal Director Brett Sommermeyer said in a press release the current fishing limitations enacted through New Zealand’s threat management plan are “wholly insufficient.”

“It clearly places economics before conservation and leaves a substantial portion of the dolphin’s habitat unprotected,” he said.

Newsroom reported the issue was under consideration by the office of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and that New Zealand officials had conveyed the “urgency” of the issue to their U.S. counterparts. It reported potential ban, which would apply to seafood from fisheries ruled not to have rules preventing bycatch of marine mammals to a similar level to the United States, would affect NZD 2 million (USD 1.3 million, EUR 1.2 million) in annual exports. But if New Zealand was unable to scientifically prove the limits of the dolphin’s habitat, the law could potentially apply to all of New Zealand’s NZD 200 million (USD 131.2 million , EUR 116 million) of seafood exports to the U.S.

In February 2019, Sea Shepherd filed a petition for emergency rulemaking demanding that the U.S. government cease importing seafood from New Zealand. That petition was rejected after New Zealand filed its threat management plan. The lawsuit filed in May questions the effectiveness of the plan, and the injunction filed 1 July asks for preventative action to be taken immediately while the case is under consideration.

U.S. Court of International Trade Judge Gary S. Katzmann, who has been assigned the case, is the same judge who approved a preliminary injunction enacting an extensive limitation of U.S. imports of seafood from Mexico to protect the highly endangered vaquita porpoise.

Photo courtesy of Gary Webber/Shutterstock

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