Federal court upholds ban on Mexican imports in vaquita case

A federal court has upheld a ruling from July that banned seafood imports from Mexico harvested by a drift gillnet.

The decision by the U.S. Court of International Trade on Monday, 22 October came after Trump administration officials appealed Judge Gary S. Katzman’s temporary injunction against the practice. Conservation groups sued the administration seeking a ban in an attempt to save the vaquita, a small porpoise on the brink of extinction. 

The porpoise lives in the Gulf of California and estimates put the species population at around a dozen. However, roughly half the stock dies each year in encounters with gillnets. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in March and claimed the acceptance of Mexican seafood caught by those nets violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“Americans don’t want to be complicit in causing the extinction of the vaquita porpoise by purchasing fish caught in gillnets,” said DJ Schubert, an AWI wildlife biologist said in a statement. “The court held that the interests of the vaquita are more important than the government’s spurious claims that a ban on gillnet-caught seafood will harm relations between the U.S. and Mexico.”

The NRDC estimates Mexican fisheries affected by the injunction harvested more than 1,400 tons of seafood worth approximately USD 16 million (EUR 14 million).

Two months ago, officials from NOAA Fisheries issued a ruling in wake of the temporary injunction that “prohibits the importation into the United States from Mexico of all shrimp, curvina, sierra, and chano fish and fish products harvested by gillnets in the upper Gulf of California” region where the vaquita live. The regulation also stipulated that similar Mexican seafood imports not subject to the ban must arrive with a certification of admissibility. 


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