Key Court Victory for Vaquita

In March 2018, AWI and allies filed a lawsuit in the US Court of International Trade to force the Trump administration to uphold provisions in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that require the US government to ban seafood imports from foreign fisheries that kill marine mammals at a rate that exceeds US standards.

The lawsuit sought to compel the administration to block entry of all fish and fish products from Mexican commercial fisheries that use gillnets within the Upper Gulf of California—home to the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Vaquita become entangled in the nets and are killed as bycatch in these fisheries, placing the species on the brink of extinction.

On July 26, Judge Gary S. Katzmann agreed that an embargo is indeed legally required and ordered the administration to ban seafood imports from Mexico caught with gillnets in the Upper Gulf. It is estimated that in 2017 alone, the United States imported more than 1,400 tons of gillnet-caught fish and shrimp from the region, valued at roughly $16 million. The court cited expert statements that “extinction is … inevitable unless gillnets are completely removed from vaquita habitat,” and that “even one more bycatch death … threatens the very existence of the species.” As few as 15 of the animals may remain. AWI sees this ruling as a vindication of a key objective of the MMPA, ensuring that the US market will not hasten the extinction of an endangered species.