Sea Shepherd Urges U.S. to Act on Dolphin Near Extinction

Credit: Sea Shepherd
Credit: Sea Shepherd

By The Maritime Executive 02-06-2019 06:15:17

Sea Shepherd has called on the Trump administration to take action to prevent New Zealand’s M?ui dolphin from follow the same population decline as the vaquita in Mexico. The organization is calling on the U.S. to ban all imports from New Zealand fisheries that are driving the M?ui dolphin to extinction. 

Endemic to New Zealand, the M?ui dolphin population has been decimated – a victim of bycatch in fisheries using gillnets and trawls. The M?ui dolphin is the world’s most endangered marine dolphin.  As most scientists consider the Baiji (the Chinese river dolphin) to be extinct, the M?ui dolphin is likely the most endangered dolphin in the world.   

The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) estimates that there are only 57 M?ui dolphins remaining — down from approximately 2,000 in 1971. Unless action is taken immediately, the M?ui dolphin will disappear forever, says Sea Shepherd. 

It is an unfortunate fact that global consumers of New Zealand’s seafood exports are hastening the M?ui dolphin’s slide into oblivion, says Sea Shepherd. Among the culprits is the U.S. seafood market, which routinely imports between 25,000 and 50,000 kilos of New Zealand snapper per month. The snapper fishery is known to use gear that ensnares M?ui dolphins. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) is a U.S. law that aims to reduce bycatch of marine mammals - not just in U.S. waters, but globally. Recognizing that the U.S. is a major seafood importer, Congress, through the MMPA, chose to prohibit imports from foreign fisheries that fail to prevent bycatch of marine mammals in line with U.S. standards.  

There is no question that New Zealand fails to meet such standards in the case of the M?ui dolphin, says Sea Shepherd. The current bycatch of Maui dolphins is estimated to be two to four individuals per year. The IWC Scientific Committee has concluded that the human-caused death of even one individual would increase the extinction risk.

Sea Shepherd has submitted a petition for emergency rule-making demanding that the government fulfill its MMPA obligations. If the responsible U.S. agencies do not respond appropriately, Sea Shepherd will seek redress in court. 

Late last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals again sided with conservationists and upheld a four-month-old ban on the U.S. importing Mexican shrimp and other seafood caught with gillnets that threaten the survival of vaquita porpoises. The decision is seen as critical to the survival of the estimated 15 remaining vaquita, a species only found in the upper Gulf of California. Gillnets are estimated to kill about 50 percent of the rapidly dwindling population every year.