Court upholds ban on Mexican seafood imports tied to harming endangered porpoise

Court upholds ban on Mexican seafood imports tied to harming endangered porpoise
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The U.S. Court of International Trade struck down the Trump administration’s attempts to lift a ban on seafood imported from Mexico caught through a practice that can kill a highly endangered porpoise species.

The court late Monday denied a request from the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security and Treasury, as well as the National Marine Fisheries Service, to lift the ban first put in place in July as a measure to protect the endangered Vaquita porpoise, found in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

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“The arguments presented by the Government are not new to the Court — they have been presented before, and in two previous opinions, the Court has not been persuaded by them,” the judge.

“In short, Congress determined that when a marine mammal is endangered — such as the vaquita is here — because of foreign fishing technologies, targeted embargoes on fish caught using those technologies are the remedies to be imposed. The Government’s regulatory preferences do not override this legislative command.”

The Vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise species, which typically measures 5 feet long and weighs less than 100 pounds, can be killed through the use of gillnets.

Gillnets are a type of fishing net that is hung in the water to catch passing-by seafood and is a common practice in Mexico. Seafood products typically caught with gillnets include shrimp, corvina, Spanish mackerel and bigeye croaker.

Scientists believe there are as few as 15 Vaquitas remaining in the wild and say the species could go extinct by 2021.

The Trump administration sought to overturn the ban on the seafood imports as it prepared to appeal the initial court ruling, arguing that the court “made several legal errors when determining the likelihood of success and balancing the potential harm to the parties.” The administration, in part, argued the embargo would hurt trade relations with Mexico.

Three wildlife preservation groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the Center for Biological Diversity — first filed the suit to place an injunction on the seafood imports in March.

“We applaud the court for its clear and unequivocal rejection of the government’s attempts to reverse this important decision,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist for the AWI.

“The court held that the interests of the vaquita are more important than the government’s spurious claims that a ban on gillnet-caught seafood will harm relations between the U.S. and Mexico.”