New Zealand Government Joins US Seafood Lawsuit

In an ongoing debate surrounding the endangered Māui dolphins, the New Zealand government has been granted permission to join US defendants in a lawsuit seeking to ban New Zealand seafood imports. The lawsuit was initiated by conservation advocates Sea Shepherd due to concerns Māui dolphins are not adequately protected by rules preventing bycatch.

It is estimated that only 63 dolphins remain in total, with only 14 to 17 females of reproductive age. Conservationists have called for greater bans of set net fishing and trawling in their habitat which they say should include waters up to 100m deep.

Sea Shepherd’s lawsuit alleges the US Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, NOAA Fisheries, and the Treasury Department are not upholding the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This Act bans the import of seafood from fisheries that don’t have rules preventing bycatch of marine mammals to a similar level to the United States.

Now the New Zealand Government is joining the four US agencies to defend the lawsuit in the United States Court of International Trade.

“In order to provide the court with information about the measures being taken to protect Maui dolphins. In particular, that these measures are at least comparable to requirements in similar circumstances in the United States," explained a spokesperson for the Ministry of Primary Industries.

If a ban goes ahead it could cost $2 million a year in exports of fish which come from Māui habitat. However, unless a traceability programme is set up to prove where fish are caught, the ban could affect up to $200m a year of New Zealand exports.

In its motion requesting permission to join the lawsuit the New Zealand government explained how it would be adversely affected by the ban:

“Moreover, the NZG seeks permission to demonstrate that the analyses that the plaintiffs have submitted to date are riddled with numerous factual errors and flawed assumptions.”

Sea Shepherd’s legal director Brett Sommermeyer said a decision on a preliminary injunction, which would immediately ban imports until the lawsuit is concluded, has been delayed. He expects a decision could be due in September or October.