In an announcement that is aimed at protecting one of the most endangered species in the world, an international trade court judge has just ordered the Trump administration to ban all seafood harvested with gill nets in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California.
The ruling was made to save the vaquita porpoise and comes amid controversy as the move has political significance and economic consequences. The US government under Trump has argued that a ban could negatively impact ongoing negations with Mexico. Earlier in the week, the US attorney general’s office unsuccessfully tried to get the court to delay its decision for another 30 days
The ban will impact an estimated $16 million worth of fish and shrimp in the seafood industry as and although a huge win, it will impact local Mexican fisherman drastically.
The thought of a ban was brought to courts this March after a decade of attempted efforts to prevent vaquita from dying in gill nets or capturing the mammals to breed.
According to researchers, the current population is now below 20 today. Over the last 20 years, the population has almost been cut in half each year. The mammal has a range of about 1500 square miles in the Gulf of California where its territory also consists of commercially fished animals such as shrimp, curvina, chano, and sierra.
The biggest threat to the vaquita are the gill nets where the walls of meshed netting snags any and all marine animals that make its way through. As a result, vaquita are consistently caught in the middle of the industry and pulled aboard ships dead from the trap of the gill nets. A major hope of the import ban will be that the Mexican government will be forced to ban the use of gill nets due to the economic loss.
The ban will be in effect until the case is fully argued on its merits. To lift the ban, Mexico must meet U.S. standards, which conservationists say entail improving regulations and enforcement to ensure vaquita are not being killed in gill nets. Failure of the Trump administration to implement the ban would be illegal and a direct violation of a federal judge’s order.
Conservationists’ argument was based on the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act which includes requiring bans on seafood imports from foreign fisheries that kill marine mammals at a rate that would violate U.S. standards for domestic fishers.
Although the ruling will hurt the small communities that make a living on selling fish, the overall impact and the potential for gill nets to be banned could change the outcome of whether or not there are any more vaquita’s left on the planet.