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From the cruel capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan to the live butchering of sharks for their fins, the ocean is increasingly becoming a battleground instead of a home for marine animals.

And, as with most problems, there is more going on than meets the eye. Yes, it’s undeniably horrific that dolphins are cruelly slaughtered for their meat (or for fishing bait) and whales are too, but what few realize is that the commercial fishing industry also heavily contributes to the deaths of these animals and others every year – and it’s not just from overfishing or deep sea trawling.

According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 650,000 marine mammals are either killed or injured each year by the daily practices of the foreign commercial fishing industry.

What’s more, U.S. consumers are playing a part in these killings and injuries every time they purchase foreign-caught seafood like shrimp, tuna, crab, lobster, and salmon since 91 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported and nearly all of these fish “products” violate a U.S. federal marine mammal protection law, the report reveals.

“No one wants their shrimp cocktail to come with a side of dolphin, but that’s essentially what’s happening when we eat imported fish that isn’t held to the same standard as American seafood,” said Zak Smith, attorney with NRDC and co-author of the report, in a press release.

According to the NRDC, the species most affected by the foreign commercial fishing industry include the following:

  • North Atlantic right whale — at risk from Canada’s lobster and crabbing practices
  • New Zealand sea lion — at risk from New Zealand’s squid industry
  • Mediterranean sperm whale — at risk from Italy & Turkey’s lack of enforcement
  • Vaquita — at risk from shrimp fisheries not complying with Mexico’s regulations
  • Spinner dolphins — at risk from India and Sri Lanka’s tuna industry
  • Baltic and Black Sea harbor porpoises — at risk from inadequate regulatory measures
  • J-Stock minke whale — at risk from a range of Japanese and South Korean fishing practices
  • False killer whale — at risk from Pacific Ocean tuna, swordfish and marlin fishing practices

More specifically, these species and others are in grave danger because of:

  • The techniques used to catch fish and other seafood including gillnets, purse seines, trawls, bottom-set traps, and longlines (each of these methods can entangle marine mammals, causing either injury or death).
  • And the lax U.S. enforcement of federal marine mammal protection in the foreign commercial fishing industry, which, if fully enforced, should require that importing countries: (1) include information on the status of affected marine mammal populations, (2) proof that protective measures were utilized, and (3) that fisheries were monitored for their compliance and are working toward zero marine mammal deaths, as the NRDC points out.

So what can be done about this issue?

  • The U.S. government can and should be held accountable for regulating imported foreign-caught seafood, and you can help get their attention by filling out this online letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service, urging them to enforce U.S. seafood import laws.
  • On the public end, U.S. consumers can opt for American-caught seafood over foreign-caught to ensure that safer techniques are being used to catch fish and shellfish for human consumption.
  • And lastly, consumers can choose to skip out on seafood all together, or at least eat less of it. This way, not only are the marine mammals we hold so dear being saved, but so is the other half of the ocean – the half that is so often forgotten.

Image source: Gabriel Barathieu / Wikipedia Commons