Bycatch Standards Bypass Foreign Fisheries

Around the globe each year, more than 650,000 marine mammals are killed or seriously injured as bycatch—entangled or hooked in fishing gear meant for other species. Since 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act has decreed that seafood sold in the United States must be fished in accordance with strong standards for preventing bycatch. US fisheries have long been held to these MMPA standards, but the National Marine Fisheries Service has largely allowed foreign fisheries to ignore them. In 2016, the agency finally set a 2021 deadline for other nations to comply. That deadline, however, has been extended several times—most recently to December 2025.

photo by Fishtek Marine
photo by Fishtek Marine

To highlight this discrepancy, AWI and partner organizations produced Ban Bycatch: The United States Must Ban Seafood from Countries Failing to Protect Marine Mammals. This issue brief assesses the ability of 11 countries—of varying income levels and fishing capacities—to meet US bycatch standards. The results were discouraging. Most countries fail to sufficiently assess the status of marine mammal populations in their waters and lack adequate monitoring to determine fishery impacts on those populations.

Surveys indicate that American consumers do not wish to buy seafood caught via methods that harm or kill marine mammals. The US market is lucrative, with more than $21 billion worth of seafood products imported annually, accounting for more than 15 percent of the global value of marine food products in trade. Flexing this economic muscle is vital to securing protections for marine mammals.

Take action

Urge NMFS to stop stalling and enforce the requirement that foreign fisheries comply with the MMPA.

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