WASHINGTON, D.C.—A federal petition to ban the importation of certain fish from New Zealand under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, or MMPA, was rejected, July 10, dealing a blow to environmental groups seeking to save the Māui dolphin. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rejected the petition. Sea Shepherd filed the petition with NOAA, NMFS and the Dept. of Commerce in February.
The petition specifically called for the ban of imported commercial fish – or products from fish – sourced in such a matter that “results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury” of Māui dolphin “in excess of United States standards.”
“The petition requested that the relevant secretary ban the importation of all fish and fish products caught in set nets or trawls inside the Māui dolphin’s range and from the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island and the Cook Strait, unless affirmatively identified as having been caught with a gear type other than set nets or trawls within that area,” NOAA staff stated in its ruling.
“The petitioners assert that for the Māui dolphin, set net and trawl bycatch has driven the species from a population of approximately 2,000 individuals in 1971, to 111 in 2004, to 55 in 2011,” NOAA staff continued in its ruling.
NOAA rejected the petition for a few reasons, such as:
- A regulatory program already exists in New Zealand to reduce Māui bycatch
- Policymakers in New Zealand, based on a 2019 assessment, have propped additional regulatory measures to “further reduce risk of Māui dolphin bycatch below Potential Biological Removal level”
NOAA staff added disease, not commercial fishing, is the likely reason for the annual mortality of the Māui dolphin, in excess of the Potential Biological Removal level.
There was also the question of whether bycatches associated with Māui dolphin are actually being imported into the United States. The Marine Mammal Protection Act would be in effect whenever the regulation of species and fishing activities falls within its jurisdiction.
“NMFS cannot implement import restrictions that affect fisheries that do not export to the United States,” NOAA staff stated. “While there are set net and trawl fisheries on the List of Foreign Fisheries that operate within the Māui dolphin range, NMFS, working with the Government of New Zealand, has not been able to establish conclusively that these fisheries export to the United States.”