The activists said they were trying to protect endangered Māui dolphin habitats. Photo: Earthrace Conservation/Liz Slooten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The government has welcomed the end of a ban on some fish exports to the United States.
A US court ordered an immediate ban on New Zealand exports of several species from two fisheries off the North Island’s west coast in 2022, after legal proceedings were filed by wildlife conservation groups Sea Shepherd New Zealand (SSNZ), and US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).
The activists said they were trying to protect endangered Māui dolphin habitats, and claimed New Zealand’s standards did not live up to those required under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
The injunction handed down by the United States Court of International Trade applied to nine species from the West Coast North Island inshore trawl and set net fisheries, including snapper, tarakihi and spotted dogfish.
The ban was to remain in place until the United States found New Zealand’s regulations for the fisheries were comparable with American standards, or until the court case was fully resolved.
The court has now lifted the injunction, the government said on Wednesday. Oceans and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones and Trade and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said the reversal was a “win for commonsense”.
“This is a win for New Zealand’s sustainably caught seafood and will help with the seafood sector’s contribution to our export-led recovery,” Jones said.
“While the temporary halt affected only a relatively small portion of overall fisheries trade to the United States, we’re pleased to see trade of all our sustainably caught seafood resume.
“I am pleased to see commonsense prevail in the face of a spurious claim by environmental activists. This ban cost New Zealand in the region of $2 million in exports.”
Jones and McClay said a US investigation found “protections for Māui dolphins were comparable with, met and even exceeded, the US standards under its Marine Mammal Protection Act”.
“New Zealand has worked hard to help protect Māui dolphins from fishing-related risks and this decision reaffirms we have good protections in place,” Jones said.
“Our protections for Māui dolphins include introducing onboard cameras and banning set nets and trawl fishing within core Māui dolphin habitat along the North Island’s west coast.”
There were only likely between 48 and 64 Maui’s dolphins over one year of age, the Department of Conservation website said.
Sea Shepherd spokesperson Michael Lawry told RNZ “politics and power” had won over science, and they were disappointed NOAA Fisheries – the US government agency tasked with managing and conserving marine life there – “continues to back the New Zealand fishing industry rather than the Maui dolphin”.
“We were hoping in January 2024, NOAA would have agreed with the best science … but instead they approved New Zealand, which we’d then have to challenge again.
“However, to keep challenging every two to four years is unsustainable. SSNZ would have liked another shot and (maybe) got another two-year ban. SSCS thought we’d achieved as much as we could through the US Court of International Trade, and by pressing forward with this lawsuit, NOAA Fisheries will be galvanised to expedite their process to weaken the MMPA import provisions.
“NOAA have signalled they are going to make changes so it’s harder for NGOs to challenge. It’s possible another New Zealand-based group may take it up, win and achieve a ban for another two or so years. However, NOAA Fisheries can keep issuing new comparability findings in support of the NZ Fishing Industry to get around the ban(s).”
Lawry said Sea Shepherd “are at our best when out on the water. So that’s where we’ll be focusing our efforts to help our native dolphin. We’d love a bigger vessel if any one wants to stamp their name on it.”
Copyright © 2024, Radio New Zealand
A temporary ban on exports to the US of fish caught in Māui dolphin habitats is about procedure, not New Zealand’s marine mammal protection standards, an industry representative says. Audio
A US court has ordered an immediate ban on New Zealand exports of several species of fish from two fisheries off the North Island’s west coast.
Up to $250 million of New Zealand seafood exports to the United States are under threat because of ongoing court action.
The conservation group, Sea Shepherd, says recent measures to protect Māui… Audio
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