NFI, SFP oppose boycott of Mexican shrimp

Published on
March 17, 2017

The National Fisheries Institute and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership have spoken out in opposition to a proposed boycott of shrimp sourced from Mexico, a measure being encouraged by a group of NGOs that wants to pressure the Mexican government to take more drastic action to save the endangered vaquita.

The population of vaquita, a small porpoise that lives in the northern Gulf of California, has dropped dramatically due to entrapment in gillnets used in the fishing of shrimp and totoaba, another endangered species that is prized in Asia for its swim bladder. Fewer than 30 individual vaquita remain alive in the wild, according to scientific estimates, and biologists estimate the species will become extinct within three years if no action is taken, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, which is spearheading the boycott movement along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.

In an emailed statement, NFI President John Connelly said his organization, the commercial fishing industry’s lobbying group, opposed the boycott.

“Targeting legally sourced Mexican shrimp for a boycott in a misguided attempt to draw attention to this issue is unfortunate. This strategy seeks to disadvantage some of the most committed supporters of legal, sustainable shrimp harvesting,” Connelly said. “If illegal fishing is negatively impacting efforts to protect vaquita, then support for increased enforcement is what’s needed, not a boycott on those already doing the right thing.”

Connelly said efforts to save the vaquita should be focused on combatting illegal fishing for totoaba, “the current primary threat to vaquita,” and not the commercial shrimp fishing industry, which he said operates lawfully and has complied with fishing restrictions imposed by the Mexican government to preserve the vaquita population. 

“The NFI opposes illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in all its forms,” Connelly said. “All Mexican shrimp harvesting vessels are required to be outfitted with real-time satellite monitoring systems to prevent entry into protected areas. We support and encourage robust enforcement of these restrictions by Mexican authorities.”

The conservation groups leading the boycott effort claim that enforcement of laws designed to protect the vaquita has been inadequate, but the NFI said more attention should be paid to the illegal fishing of totoaba, rather than the commercial shrimp-fishing fleet. 

“The groups calling for a boycott of all Mexican shrimp as a means to protect this species have themselves, in a 3 March letter, acknowledged that, ‘illegal fishing for totoaba is the current primary threat to vaquita.’ The groups go on to point to shrimp vessels caught illegally harvesting as examples of the threat.” Connelly said. “The fact that the boats in question were apprehended is actually an illustration that enforcement efforts with respect to the shrimp fleet work.”

The NFI supports the continued ban on gillnets in the protected areas,  where the gillnet ban is already in place, Connelly said.

In a letter acquired by SeafoodSource sent to companies with involvement in the exporting of shrimp from Mexico and in their importing into the United States, the AWI, the NRDC and the CBD labeled the shrimp industry “the fundamental cause of the vaquita population’s decline over the past two decades.”

“Shrimp vessels both large and small continue to be caught fishing illegally inside the Vaquita Refuge Area,” the letter said. “We believe that only by targeting the import of all shrimp from Mexico can the government of Mexico be compelled to finally step up and save its endemic vaquita. By engaging in trade with Mexican shrimp companies, [you are] offering an economic incentive to an industry and government that has failed to provide the necessary safeguards to protect the vaquita.”

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, which has assisted the ongoing efforts of the fishery improvement project (FIP) overseeing the Gulf of California shrimp fishery, also opposes the boycott movement, SFP spokesman Sean Murphy said.

“Of course, we’re concerned about the [vaquita] issue. When it comes to banning illegal nets and gillnet fishing, we absolutely support that,” Murphy said. “The part where we disagree is over a broader boycott. The reason is simply that at SFP, we’re concerned that any broad-based boycott like this would punish good actors as well as bad actors.”

Murphy said that the artisanal shrimp fleet still uses gillnets and that SFP has advised its commercial partners not to buy their shrimp.

“Which is unusual for us – we don’t usually give advice like that,” he said. “But the reason is that this has been a problem for a long time, but the problem still exists and the fact that it has gotten as dire as it has gotten is nothing short of a tragedy.”

Like NFI, SFP also supports a continued ban on illegal nets and gillnet fishing, and better enforcement of those laws.

“We hope the Mexican government will do everything in its power to support any regulations currently on the books,” Murphy said.

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