Almost All Imported Seafood Violates Federal Law, Says NRDC

A new study [pdf] by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals a startling truth about the seafood that Americans eat: more than 91 percent of it is imported, and "nearly every foreign fish product sold in the United States enters the U.S. market in violation of federal law."

According to the Marine Mammal protection act (MMPA), all seafood that is imported into the U.S. is supposed to meet our country's standards on bycatch -- when fish or marine mammals are caught by accident and subsequently thrown back dead or alive. The MMPA calls for monitoring bycatch both by a government-managed observer program and by self-reporting from fishing vessels. It also calls for reducing incidental deaths and injuries of marine mammals, with the ultimate goal of eliminating death and injury altogether.

Unfortunately, the MMPA standards are vague and not well-implemented. The NRDC reports that bycatch is rampant, with more than 650,000 marine mammals dying or getting severely injured each year as a result of bycatch.

Because the federal government has never strictly enforced the MMPA, foreign fisheries have not invested in curtailing bycatch. As a result, these fisheries export problematic seafood to the United States.

This infographic displays the various marine mammals that die or get injured as a result of U.S. seafood imports from all over the world.

seafood imports

The MMPA clearly states:

The Secretary of the Treasury shall ban the importation of commercial fish or fish products from fish which have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of ocean mammals in excess of United States standards.

If followed, this measure would extend protection for marine mammals across the globe. It would also ensure that the seafood Americans eat was not obtained while harming other animals. Additionally, it would create a level playing field for U.S. and international fisheries, requiring them to meet the same environmental protection standards.

The NRDC recommends action on the federal and individual level. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency in charge of interpreting and overseeing the MMPA, should clearly define “U.S. standards” for bycatch, and should educated foreign fisheries on regional regimens for reducing bycatch. The NRDC also recommends that consumers buy American-caught seafood.

Net Loss: The Killing of Marine Mammals in Foreign Fisheries