For Immediate Release, March 4, 2008
Andrea A. Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 306
Mike Milne, Turtle Island Restoration Network , (415) 663-8590 x106 or (847) 727-2296
Ban Sought on Imported Swordfish:
Foreign Swordfish Fleets Kill More Marine Mammals Than U.S. Law Permits
SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network formally petitioned the U.S. government today to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act and impose a ban on imported swordfish until exporting countries provide proof that their fishing practices are at least as protective of marine mammals as those used by U.S. commercial fishers.
The Act requires the U.S. government to obtain proof, from any country wishing to export fish or fish products to the United States, that the country’s fishing practices do not harm or kill more marine mammals than allowed by U.S. standards. This provision of the law is to ensure that highly regulated American fishing fleets are not put at a competitive disadvantage to poorly regulated foreign fleets. Yet although most swordfish is caught with longline and driftnet fishing gear that entangles and kills thousands of marine mammals annually, the U.S. government continues to illegally import swordfish from more than 40 countries without requiring any proof of its impacts on marine mammals.
“Right now most consumers have no idea that the swordfish steak on their plate comes with a giant helping of dead dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lions. And the federal government has no idea how many of these animals are dying each year in order flood the U.S. market with cheap, imported swordfish,” said Andrea Treece, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The United States is the one of the world’s top importers of swordfish, bringing in over 20 million pounds every year. Singapore is the largest source of this imported swordfish even though that country does not have its own swordfish fleet, relying instead on poorly documented catch from Taiwan and other nations. Similarly, Panama, a flag-of-convenience country with virtually no fisheries regulation, is the second largest source of imported swordfish. All in all, the United States imports swordfish from nearly four dozen countries, and none has provided the proof required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“Foreign longline and driftnet fisheries for swordfish are a disaster for marine mammals, not to mention seabirds and sea turtles,” said Mike Milne, biologist for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “ Until the US government obeys its own law, the onus is on the public to save thousands of whales, dolphins, and seals every year by avoiding foreign-caught swordfish.”
Domestic swordfish fishers use longlines, driftnets, and harpoons to catch swordfish. While U.S. longlines and driftnets still catch unacceptably high numbers of marine mammals, regulations imposing time-area closures and requiring the use of net-extenders, acoustic deterrents, dehooking devises, and various safe-handling measures have substantially reduced marine mammal bycatch and mortality in U.S. fisheries. A harpoon fishery for swordfish in southern California has no marine mammal bycatch.
“The U.S. has the ability to save marine mammals around the globe by simply refusing to import seafood products caught unsustainably. It’s time to put that consumer power to work for the sake of the many species harmed by foreign swordfish fisheries,” added Treece.