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Tighter Fish Import Restrictions Agreed in Dolphin-Safe Labeling Case

Monday, January 12, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The U.S. has agreed to settle a court case filed 18 months ago by three environmental groups seeking to ensure that all imported fish and fish products meet U.S. statutory standards for the protection of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. The settlement calls for a proposed rule to be issued by June 1 and a final rule to be issued by Aug. 1, 2016. These regulations “will require foreign fisheries to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of U.S. fishermen or be denied import privileges,” a press release from the National Resources Defense Council said, “thus implementing a 40-year-old provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

However, the settlement appears to allow the government to not issue the regulations, in which case the environmental groups could reopen their litigation. The U.S. could opt for this course if the World Trade Organization rules against “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling regulations that were amended in July 2013 in response to an earlier adverse WTO decision. The U.S. believes its amendments strengthened the regulations by requiring a certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during any tuna fishing operations, not just those that take place within the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. However, Mexico has objected to the new standards and taken the issue back to the WTO.

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