President Biden Urged to Ban Mexican Fish Imports, Stop Mass Killing of Endangered Sea Turtles

President Biden Urged to Ban Mexican Fish Imports, Stop Mass Killing of Endangered Sea Turtles

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity called on President Biden today to impose trade sanctions against Mexico to stop the nation’s massive bycatch of loggerhead sea turtles, as required by U.S. law.

In August the National Marine Fisheries Service certified Mexico for its bycatch under the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act. Certification requires that Biden now ban Mexican fish imports.

“The United States has tools to push Mexico to limit loggerhead sea turtle bycatch, but I’m frustrated that Biden isn’t using them,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center.

“Loggerhead sea turtles are deeply imperiled and they need protection from both our nations to survive. President Biden must ban Mexican fish imports and pressure Mexico to take action.”

Each year Mexican halibut and shark fisheries off the southern Baja California peninsula catch thousands of loggerheads from the North Pacific Ocean distinct population segment.

These sea turtles migrate from nesting grounds in Japan to foraging grounds off Mexico and the United States, returning to Japan to nest. North Pacific Ocean loggerheads face a serious risk of extinction, in part because of Mexico’s alarmingly high levels of bycatch.

Under the Moratorium Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must identify nations that bycatch protected wildlife if the nation lacks comparable species protection rules to those of the United States.

Two years after identification and following discussions with the nation, the Service “shall certify” the nation if it has failed to adopt comparable regulations. If certification occurs, the law requires that President Biden “shall” ban fish imports from the nation.

The Fisheries Service first identified Mexico for its sea turtle bycatch in 2013 and negatively certified Mexico in 2015. Yet then-President Obama held off on issuing sanctions because Mexico adopted new regulations. The rules set a controversially high cap, allowing 90 sea turtles to be killed each year.

Bycatch initially dropped after the new regulations were adopted in 2015, but the Mexican enforcement agency soon began documenting high levels of strandings as enforcement flagged. In 2021, 682 loggerhead sea turtles were found washed up dead on local beaches. Scientists estimate that only 20% of turtles caught in fishing gear wash ashore, so likely thousands were killed that year.

Now Mexico has amended its regulations, which has significantly heightened the danger for sea turtles. The previous cap of up to 90 sea turtles killed each year has been removed entirely. Additionally, an onboard observer program has been discontinued, and a requirement to use video surveillance and a vessel monitoring system has also been terminated.

“No one relishes sanctions, but Mexico has a documented history of only adopting conservation measures when threatened with trade bans,” said Uhlemann. “Last time, the Mexican government turned a blind eye to sea turtle deaths as soon as the sanctions threat lifted. A fish import ban will make the Mexican government finally get serious about saving these precious turtles.”

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This article was first published by The Center for Biological Diversity on 17 October 2023. Lead Image: Loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, Picasa Creative Commons / Joseph & Farideh.

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