Two years after U.S. officials established new regulations regarding imported seafood and bycatch, NOAA Fisheries is taking steps to make sure other countries are working on reducing the interaction their fisheries have with marine mammals.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisons Rule, announced in August 2016, requires seafood importers to maintain the same bycatch standards as American fisheries. The rule took effect on 1 January 2017 but gave countries a five-year period to evaluate their marine mammal stocks and reduce their bycatch to match U.S. standards.
Among the steps completed this year include the creation of a list of foreign fisheries, which was produced in March. The document, considered the first of its kind, evaluated nearly 3,300 fisheries operating in nearly 140 countries. Those fisheries were rated by the frequency and likelihood of whether marine mammals suffered serious injuries or were killed in the process of harvesting fish or other seafood products.
The document found that 2,386 fisheries were rated as export, meaning they have a higher than remote chance of bycatch. NOAA Fisheries found 910 fisheries to be exempt, which means they either have zero or minimal chance of marine mammal interactions.
NOAA Fisheries officials said the list has helped shed light on the bycatch situation around the world. They now have greater insight into the gear types and regions with the highest bycatch totals, and fisheries in the Indian Ocean have the highest marine mammal bycatch rates.
"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,” NOAA Fisheries Director of the Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection John Henderschedt said. “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."
Next year, nations will need to submit documentation showing the progress they are making in developing regulations to limit bycatch within their fisheries.