U.S. Court Upholds Ban on Mexican Seafood Imports to Save Vaquita
The U.S. Court of Appeals has 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.
Rejecting a Trump administration legal challenge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirmed a preliminary order implementing a federal law that requires a ban on seafood imported from Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California caught with gillnets.
Conservation groups the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council initially filed suit in the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York City in March and secured a preliminary ban in July. The departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security, which are charged with banning imports that are contributing to the vaquita’s extinction, have tried and failed to modify or undo the import ban three times.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the U.S. government to ban seafood imports from foreign fisheries that kill or injure marine mammals, including the vaquita, at a rate above U.S. standards. The rate of vaquita killing by Mexico’s fisheries in the Gulf of California is above U.S. standards, and its efforts to stop this bycatch do not meet U.S. guidelines.
“The U.S. government is wasting its time and money trying to reverse the court’s order, which will only accelerate the extinction of the critically endangered vaquita,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute. “It’s time for the government to accept the courts’ decisions, ensure full implementation of the ban, and continue to work with the government of Mexico to save the vaquita.”
Over the past 20 years, 95 percent of the vaquita population has been lost. In recent years, the vaquita’s decline has accelerated. Scientists predict that the vaquita will be extinct soon, possibly by 2021, if Mexican fishing practices and law enforcement efforts remain unchanged.
Mexico has failed to permanently ban all gillnets in the vaquita’s habitat, despite repeated recommendations by scientists and evidence that the use of gillnets by any fishery - in or adjacent to the vaquita’s range - will lead to the species’ extinction.