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US seafood import rules protecting marine mammals inch closer

Beginning next year, countries exporting seafood to the US market will need to submit a progress report on what they are doing to bring their marine mammal protection regulations in line with those governing US fisheries.

Countries exporting seafood to the United States will be required, beginning in 2019, to submit a progress report to the US government detailing the development of their regulatory programs to reduce marine mammal bycatch.

The requirement is the next step in a phased-in process mandating that nations exporting wild and farmed seafood to the United States meet fishing standards for protecting marine mammals equal to those American fishermen.

New US seafood import rules protecting marine mammals underway

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The new regulatory regime was established in 2016 and officially took effect Jan. 1, 2017, but is being phased in over a five-year period and will be fully implemented in 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is overseeing the program, spent much of this year focused on creating what it calls the List of Foreign Fisheries (LOFF).

Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries published a final LOFF, a comprehensive list that identifies and classifies foreign commercial fishing operations that export seafood to the United States based on the frequency of “incidental and intentional mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in those fisheries.” The LOFF is an essential component to the MMPA Import Provisions Rule, issued in August 2016.

NOAA Fisheries has accumulated information on US seafood imports and solicited information from over 130 exporting countries regarding the fishing technologies employed to harvest the fish products exported to the US market, an agency spokesperson told IntraFish.

Is a new marine mammal eco-label next?

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The final LOFF, published in March, classified 3,296 fisheries operating in 138 countries, as either "export" or "exempt" based on the frequency and likelihood of incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals.

(The entire list of these export and exempt fisheries, organized by nation (or subsidiary jurisdiction), can be found here)

“[The] Initial evaluation of the LOFF has provided important information, including identification of gear types and regions with high marine mammal bycatch, the gear type posing the greatest threat to marine mammals is gillnets; and the Indian Ocean is the region with highest marine mammal bycatch,” the NOAA official said.

"The publication of the List of Foreign Fisheries is a crucial step toward implementation of the MMPA import rule and is having a profound effect on the global state of knowledge regarding marine mammal bycatch and on nations' ability to reduce that bycatch through improved management,” said John Henderschedt, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection.

“This improved understanding of commercial fisheries' impact on marine mammals combined with the incentives to establish comparable measures are achieving the conservation objectives originally intended in the statute."

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