Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Report finds Ecuador not compliant with US fishing standards

A major source of seafood for the U.S. may not be able to continue exports if it cannot reduce whale and dolphin bycatch levels.

(CN) — Ecuador, which provides billions in fish exports to the United States, may lose access to that seafood market if it cannot resolve levels of whale and dolphin bycatch.

According to a report released by conservation and animal welfare organizations Wednesday, Ecuador’s fishing industry currently fails to match up to U.S. standards for marine mammal bycatch, despite the nation’s recent strides to regulate its fishing industry.

“People love whales and dolphins, and U.S. consumers deserve to know that the seafood they eat meets U.S. standards for protecting these amazing animals,” Zak Smith, global biodiversity conservation director at Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “Ecuador had more than six years to get its fisheries and marine mammal programs up and running in time to show results, but it failed to do so. U.S. fishermen and consumers shouldn’t suffer from that failure; Ecuador's non-compliant seafood should be banned.”

The report urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to ban Ecuador from participation in the U.S. seafood market until the country can develop programs that can comply with U.S. fishery standards by reducing the amount of whale and dolphin bycatch.

Bycatch, the practice of catching and discarding non-target species in the fishing industries, is a major threat to many of the world’s most vulnerable marine creatures. Gear used by commercial fishing operations often capture any animal its path and end up killing or maiming the creatures. To prevent excessive bycatch, the U.S. has begun regulating its fisheries and maintaining comprehensive data on marine populations. The U.S. does still rely on other countries, however, to maintain its seafood market.

Since 2017, the U.S. has implemented a provision for international commercial fishing imports specifying that these international operations be compliant with U,S. standards for reducing marine mammal bycatch. Countries who are unable to develop programs to meet these standards run the risk of imports being banned starting in 2024.

The report indicates that Ecuador’s data on their bycatch rates may be incomplete and that analysis of current Ecuadorian legislation governing the country’s fishing industry is not comparable to U.S. regulations.

The nation’s Organic Fisheries Law, passed in 2020, established management of the fisheries and prohibited deliberate catching of marine mammals, but is not specific toward incidental catch and bycatch.

“The statute itself lacks detailed requirements for fishery management, and while Ecuador has issued new regulations and is developing fishery specific management plans, we were unable identify bycatch mitigation measures in Ecuadorian law,” the report says.

Ecuador’s seafood industry relies on both large industrial fisheries and smaller "artisanal" fisheries. While the report notes that both types of fisheries have significant gaps in their data on whale and dolphin bycatch, the smaller fisheries have been able to escape government scrutiny into their operations. According to the report, “very little governmental or regulatory attention has been focused on assessing or mitigating marine mammal bycatch caused by Ecuadorian small-scale fisheries. Official fishery statistics do not distinguish between subsistence and commercial catches within the artisanal fleets.”

Ecuador, considered megadiverse for its high level of biodiversity and endemic species, is host to a wide range of marine life due to its tropical climate. Although the country has made strides toward conservation, there are still many gaps in its assessment of at-risk species and the dangers toward those species.

While many of the nation’s marine mammal species have been observed as incidental take and bycatch, the report highlights the bottlenose dolphin and the humpback whale, both of which are considered endangered and are frequent victims of the gillnet, longline, and purse seine nets used by Ecuadorian fisheries.

According to NOAA data, Ecuador exports thousands of metric tons of seafood to the U.S. per year, valued at around one billion dollars, corresponding to about 1.02% of Ecuador’s GDP.

“We’re concerned about the intelligent creatures entangled in Ecuadorian nets, but we’re also worried for Ecuador’s hardworking fishers," Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "If they can’t sell their fish products in the lucrative U.S. seafood market, it will be a huge economic blow. Ecuador’s government needs to build on its new fishing law by tracking and limiting bycatch to save marine mammals and their export fishing industry."

Categories / Environment, International

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