New Zealand to defend itself from Sea Shepherd lawsuit urging US seafood import ban

The New Zealand government has been granted permission to join the defendants of a lawsuit demanding that the U.S. government cease importing seafood from New Zealand in order to protect the Māui dolphin. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in May 2020 after a petition for emergency rulemaking was ignored by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, lists the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NOAA Fisheries, and the U.S. Treasury Department as defendants. Now, the government of New Zealand joins them in the suit, filed with the United States Court of International Trade, according to New Zealand’s Newsroom.

A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries said the decision to join the U.S. case was made: "in order to provide the court with information about the measures being taken to protect Maui dolphins.”

“In particular, that these measures are at least comparable to requirements in similar circumstances in the United States,” the spokesperson said.

Around NZD 2 million (USD 1.3 million, EUR 1.1 million) worth of seafood exports – primarily New Zealand snapper – are caught annually in the waters habituated by the Māui dolphin. But an outright ban on all New Zealand seafood exports to the U.S. would affect up to NZD 200 million (USD 133 million, EUR 113 million) in exports, according to the New Zealand government, which has hired U.S. law firm Trade Pacific Law to represent it in the case.

“The [New Zealand government] seeks permission to demonstrate that the analyses that the plaintiffs have submitted to date are riddled with numerous factual errors and flawed assumptions,” it said in its motion requesting permission to join the suit.

The Māui dolphin, found off the west coast of the north island in New Zealand, is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. The scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) estimates that just 57 estimated remain. According to Sea Shepherd, the dolphin is on the path to extinction if bycatch by New Zealand vessels continues to affect its numbers.

Sea Shepherd’s petition calls on the U.S. government to apply the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law aiming to reduce bycatch of marine mammals both domestically and globally through banning imports off seafood from fisheries that fail to adequately prevent bycatch. 

Photo courtesy of New Zealand Department of Conservation/University of Auckland


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