The vaquita is a small porpoise found only in the northern Gulf of California, in Mexico. Today, the species is critically endangered, with less than 60 animals left in the wild, thanks to fishing nets to catch fish and shrimp for sale in Mexico and America. The animal is an accidental victim of the fishing industry, as are many other marine mammals.
(From NPR / By Alan Yu)– But a new rule that takes effect this week seeks to protect marine mammals from becoming bycatch. The rule requires foreign fisheries exporting seafood to the U.S. to ensure that they don’t hurt or kill marine mammals.
If U.S. authorities determine that a certain foreign fishery is harming these mammals, the fishery will be required to take stock of the marine mammal populations in places where they fish, and find ways to reduce their bycatch. That could involve not fishing in areas with high numbers of marine mammals. Fisheries will also have to report cases when they do end up hurting mammals. This is what American fisheries are already required to do under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
Up to 90 percent of seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported, most of it shrimp, freshwater fish, tuna, and salmon. The goal of the new rule is to ensure that seafood coming into the country didn’t harm or kill marine mammals.
But can this new rule protect the vaquita?
Zak Smith, a senior attorney with the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, thinks so. The vaquita is kind of a poster child for what happens when you don’t have this law in place,” he says.
To understand the potential impact of the rule, Smith says, we should consider the laws that saved dolphins from tuna fisheries. For decades, dolphins – which swim with schools of tuna – were accidentally (and sometimes deliberately) killed by tuna fisheries. According to NOAA, over six million dolphins have been killed since the beginning of tuna fishery. Enacted in 1972, the MMPA required tuna fisheries to take measures to stop harming dolphins. Then, in the 1980s, the act was amended to ban the import of tuna from foreign fisheries that harmed dolphins. In 1990, the U.S. passed another legislation – the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act – that spelled out requirements for “dolphin-safe” labeling on all tuna sold in America.