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Tighter Fish Import Restrictions Sought in New Court Case

Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Three environmental groups filed suit in the Court of International Trade recently in an effort to force the federal government 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 case could ultimately yield tougher import restrictions for such products but comes ahead of a World Trade Organization decision on “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling that could have the opposite effect.

A press release from the three groups states that since 1972 the Marine Mammal Protection Act has only allowed imports of fish or fish products caught in a manner that meets U.S. standards for protecting marine mammals. The U.S. has enforced this provision with respect to yellowfin tuna harvested with purse seine nets in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, the press release notes, but “has ignored the law for all other fish, allowing imports without proof that U.S. standards have been met.” As a result, the groups allege, each year nearly half of the more than five billion pounds of seafood imported into the U.S. comes from foreign fisheries that have not been shown to meet these standards.

The lawsuit is therefore seeking to compel the issuance of regulations to implement the MMPA restrictions for all imported fish and fish products. The Department of Commerce issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on this issue in April 2010, but no subsequent proposed or final rule has yet been issued.

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