A trade court Thursday July 27 ordered the Trump administration to implement a ban on seafood imports from Mexico caught with a method tied to harming an endangered porpoise species.
The United States Court of International Trade ruled that the government must ban Mexican imports of seafood caught using gillnets, a fishing technique that has been found to injure and kill the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
Scientists believe there are only 15 vaquitas left in the wild, which could leave the species extinct by 2021.
The court denied the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the case, writing, “Evidence shows that vaquita are killed by gillnet fishing and are on the verge of extinction: because the statutory duty to ban fish imports resulting in such excessive marine mammal bycatch is mandatory, the Government must comply with it.”
Gillnets are a type of fishing net that is hung in the water to catch passing-by seafood.
The case brought by three conservation groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute, against the Department of Commerce argues that it is the U.S. government’s duty to enact a ban on Mexican seafood imports under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the vaquita, the smallest species of porpoise.
The court agreed, determining that the “law commands” that “the Secretary of the Treasury shall ban imports of fish and fish products from northern Gulf fisheries that utilize gillnets and incidentally kill vaquita in excess of United States standards.”
The vaquita is most often found in the upper Gulf of California. Seafood products typically caught with gillnets include shrimp, corvina, Spanish mackerel and bigeye croaker.
According to data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. imported more than $55 million worth of seafood from Mexico in 2017.
More than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported.