The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in the U.S. Court of International Trade, March 21, alleging several federal agencies, in not enforcing elements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), failed to protect the vaquita porpoise.
Various sources estimate fewer than 30 vaquitas currently exist in the world; most vaquitas are found in the Gulf of California (about 100 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border).
Also joining the NRDC on the lawsuit were Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Those named in the lawsuit as defendants are Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Marine Fisheries Service Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
“This case is about the U.S. government’s failure to comply with the MMPA’s foreign-bycatch provisions to protect the last vaquitas,” NRDC and its co-plaintiffs stated in the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs urge this court to declare that defendants are violating federal law, to hold that defendants must insist on ‘reasonable proof’ that Mexico is meeting U.S. standards for this species, and to enter an injunction requiring Defendants to ban the import of fish or fish products from the Mexican commercial fisheries that use gillnets within the vaquita’s range.”
Roughly 95 percent of the vaquita population has disappeared since the 1990s, according to the NRDC. Vaquitas were regularly caught and entangled in drift gillnets used by commercial fishermen for shrimp and other seafood, causing them to die in large numbers.
“Vaquita, like all mammals, breathe air. When vaquita become entangled in a gillnet, they cannot surface for air and eventually drown. Scientists who study vaquita agree that entanglement in gillnets is the principal threat to the species, and that the use of gillnets in the vaquita’s range will cause their extinction,” NRDC’s attorneys stated in the lawsuit. “In Mexico’s Gulf of California, fishermen use gillnets to comb through the water for shrimp and various finfish, including curvina, chano, totoaba, and sierra (also known as Spanish mackerel).”
The lawsuit states, “NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Animal Welfare Institute are asking for court intervention and an immediate ban on Mexican seafood imports from the upper Gulf of California.”
The lawsuit also seeks to declare the United States – particularly Mnuchin, Ross, Oliver and Nielsen – “unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed the banning of fish and fish-product imports from northern Gulf of California.”