U.S. Government Expands Mexican Seafood Ban to Save Vaquita


By The Maritime Executive 03-07-2020 10:06:04

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced that it will ban imports of Mexican shrimp and other seafood caught in the habitat of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. 

The action is being taken under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which requires the U.S. government to prohibit the import of seafood caught using fishing gear that kills marine mammals in excess of United States standards.

The import ban places pressure on the Mexican government to stop the use of gillnets that are entangling vaquitas. Vaquita numbers plunged from around 560 animals in the 1990s to only about 10 today due to entanglements in gillnets set to catch shrimp and various species of fish. 

In 2018, responding to a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, the U.S. Court of International Trade ordered the Trump administration to ban shrimp, chano, sierra and curvina seafood imports from Mexico caught with gillnets in the vaquita’s habitat consistent with the MMPA.

The new embargo expands that ban to include almost all seafood caught in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California. The ban covers highly lucrative trawl-caught shrimp, curvina, sierra, and sardines caught with a purse seine net; sierra caught with hook-and-line; and almost any seafood caught with a gillnet, including anchovy, herrings, sardines, mackerels, croaker and pilchard. 

“This is exactly how the law protecting marine mammals is supposed to work: if Mexico’s fisheries kill vaquita at a rate that violates U.S. standards, the U.S. must ban imports," said Zak Smith, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Mexico has no choice but to eliminate the destructive fishing taking place in the northern Gulf of California that is driving the vaquita to extinction. It’s the only hope the vaquita has for survival, and it is required if Mexico wants to resume exporting these products to the United States.”

The northern Gulf of California is one of Mexico’s most valuable fishing regions.

In October 2019, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society documented around 70 small boats in a single day illegally setting gillnets in vaquita habitat. In October 2020, a committee under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will consider trade sanctions against Mexico.