Federal Agencies Use Big Data to Analyze How Many Sea Mammals Were Harmed While Fishing

No one wants to think that a seal was accidentally killed in the same net that caught your tuna dinner. Some people might look the other way and pretend no seals, porpoises, or sea lions were affected by massive fishery operations around the world.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are:

seeking information on foreign commercial fishing operations that export fish and fish products to the United States and the level of incidental and intentional mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in those fisheries. NMFS will use this information to identify harvesting nations with commercial fishing operations that export fish and fish products to the United States and classify those fisheries based on their frequency of marine mammal interactions as either “exempt” or “export” fisheries.

On August 15, 2016, the NMFS published a final rule enabling the import provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  This provision provides circumstances related to a nation’s regulatory program

to address incidental and intentional mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in fisheries that export fish and fish products to the United States.

The NMFS will collect data, from fish exporters, to determine how frequently a fishery interacts with marine mammals.  With that information, NMFS will designate a fishery as “exempt” or “export.” An exempt fishery is determined by the Assistant Administrator (of NMFS) to export commercial fish to the USA with a “remote likelihood or, or no known, incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in the course of commercial fishing operations.”

An exempt designation can occur if a fishery’s annual removal:

  • is less than 10% of a marine mammal stock’s bycatch limit, or
  • more than 10% of the bycatch limit, but the fishery itself only removes 1% or less, or
  • the Assistant Administrator determines injury is “remote” because of factors like fishing techniques, gear used, methods to deter marine mammals, target species, seasonality, and areas fished, or other factors at the discretion of the AA.

An export designation occurs when a fishery is determined to have more than a remote likelihood for incidental mortality & serious injury to marine mammals. Any new fisheries that aren’t specifically designated as exempt or export are automatically assigned export status until the next List of Foreign Fisheries is published.

To develop this list, NMFS has notified each harvesting nation with fisheries that export to the USA and requested that within 90 days (before March 1, 2017), the harvesting nation submit reliable information about their commercial fishing operations including:

  • Number of participants
  • Number of vessels
  • Gear type
  • Target species
  • Area of operation
  • Fishing season
  • Information about the frequency of marine mammal incidental & intentional mortality & serious injury (from on-board observers, off-loading facilities, port-side government officials, enforcements agents, vessel workers, importers, & government vessel registries)

This rule also prevents intermediary nations from importing and re-exporting fish or fish products to the USA with the goal of circumventing import restrictions.

The National Fisheries Institute (NFI), Trident Seafood Corp., Dulcich Inc. (Pacific Seafood Group), Handy Seafood, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants, Alfa International Seafood, Pacific Seafood Processors Association and West Coast Processors Association have sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce over the final rule that could have an annual bill up to USD 1 billion (EUR 946 million) in data entry for the commercial seafood industry.  The USD 1 billion cost is bound to impact small businesses negatively.  It appears NOAA, the NMFS, and the federal government want to push Mom & Pop shops to consolidate into large multi-billion dollar international conglomerates.  Less competition will ultimately lead to higher priced seafood.

[source: Federal Register]

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