Public Comment Period Opens for NOAA’s Proposed Rule to Protect Marine Mammals in International Fisheries

NOAA has issued a proposed rule to protect marine mammals in international fisheries which would require U.S. trading partners to take measures to limit the incidental killing or serious injury of marine mammals due to fishing activities if they want to export seafood to the United States.

The rule, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), aims to level the playing field for American fishermen who comply with U.S. marine mammal conservation standards, and is intended to help foreign fisheries support a healthy and diverse marine ecosystem.

Under the proposed rule, nations exporting fish and fish products to the U.S. would be required to demonstrate that killing or serious injury of marine mammals incidental to their fishing activities do not occur in excess of U.S. standards.

NOAA undertakes efforts domestically and internationally to identify and promote best practices to reduce marine mammal bycatch in various gear types such as gillnets and longlines around the world. (Credit: NOAA)

“This rule proposes a system that would lead many foreign nations to improve their fishing practices to protect marine mammals,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Those changes to current practice across the world will mark one of the most significant steps in the global conservation of marine mammals in decades, and could save substantial numbers of these vulnerable animals from injury and death, while at the same time leveling the playing field for U.S. fishermen.”

To comply, nations could adopt a marine mammal conservation program consistent with the United States’ program, or develop an alternative regulatory program with results comparable in effectiveness to U.S. regulatory programs for reducing marine mammal bycatch. NOAA would then evaluate each nation’s program to determine whether a nation has taken sufficient action and may export seafood to the United States.

NOAA, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, will consult with the harvesting nations and, to the extent possible, engage in a capacity building program to assist with monitoring and assessing marine mammals stocks and bycatch and reduce unsustainable bycatch.

“The United States is a global leader in marine mammal conservation and sustainable fisheries practices. However, successful management and conservation of our global ocean can only be achieved through international cooperation and collaboration,” said John Henderschedt, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection. “Building on our success domestically, this proposed rule will serve as another venue for the U.S. to work with other countries and international partners to reduce marine mammal death and injury associated with fishing operations.”

The proposed rule provides a 5-year grace period during which foreign nations will be able to gather information about the impacts of their fisheries on marine mammals and work to ensure that these impacts do not exceed U.S. standards. NOAA will consult with the harvesting nation and, to the extent possible, work with nations to build their capacity to meet the rule’s standards.

NOAA is accepting public comment on the proposed rule until November 9, 2015. More information on the submission process can be found in the Federal Register notice.

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