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Fishing’s Impact on Mammals: A Sustainability Issue to Watch

NRDC fishUS food companies and retailers have been trying to improve the sustainability of their fish – but imports could represent a weak link in that strategy.

According to the NRDC’s “Net Loss: The Killing of Marine Mammals in Foreign Fisheries,” overseas fisheries kill or seriously injure more than 650,000 marine mammals every year. And imports make up more than 91 percent of US seafood consumption, according to report author Zak Smith (quoted in National Geographic).

Such imports should be prevented by the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972. A spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told National Geographic that the agency enforces the act using patrols, and penalties range from verbal warnings to fines and prison time – disputing Smith’s claim that the law “has never been enforced.”

But NOAA seems to recognize that more action is needed, and plans to issue draft rules on fish imports within six months.

Such action could not only improve the sustainability of of a vast number of American dinners, but could even help US fishermen economically. Louisiana Shrimp Association vice president Acy Cooper says that imports from more environmentally cavalier countries have helped to depress fish prices for years.

Marine mammal deaths are an area of concern that is rarely aired publicly. The impact of tuna fishing on dolphin populations took to the spotlight briefly in the late 1980s, but the advent of “dolphin-safe” tuna labels appears to have put consumers’ minds at ease. The sustainability focus has shifted to other issues including maintaining healthy stocks, preventing pollution and preserving habitats.

The report from the NRDC is a reminder for food companies that the issue of marine mammal impacts is far from over – and NOAA’s actions warn of changes to come.

Takeaway: A report claims that fish imports are hurting marine mammal populations, and NOAA is developing regulations that may address the problem.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

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