Washington, DC - Nations exporting fish and fish products to the United States will have to meet fishing standards for protecting marine mammals equal to those American fishermen follow, under a final rule published today by NOAA Fisheries.

U.S. trade partners will need to show that killing or injuring marine mammals incidental to fishing activities, or bycatch, in their export fisheries do not exceed U.S. standards.

"Fishing gear entanglements or accidental catch is a global threat to marine mammal populations,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Establishing these bycatch criteria mark a significant step forward in the global conservation of marine mammals.”

The rule implements Marine Mammal Protection Act requirements, outlines ways to evaluate a nation’s marine mammal bycatch reduction efforts, and sets procedures a nation must follow to receive authorization for sending their products into the United States. NOAA Fisheries will consult with harvesting nations and, to the extent possible, work with them to build their capacity to meet the rule’s standards.

“The United States is already a global leader in marine mammal conservation and sustainable, resilient fisheries,” said Sobeck. “This rule demonstrates progressive global conservation and expands international collaboration for best stewardship.”

The rule takes effect on January 1, and establishes a one-time-only, initial five-year exemption period to give nations time to assess their marine mammal stocks, and estimate and lower their bycatch.

Over time, NOAA Fisheries expects the rule to help safeguard the U.S. seafood supply from products harvested unsustainably, without greatly limiting consumers’ seafood choices.

“NOAA carefully considered potential impacts of a fishery being unable to obtain certification under this rule, and we’re confident the seafood supply chain is adequately robust to prevent any disruption to consumer access,” said John Henderschedt, director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection. “At the same time, NOAA intends to work closely with U.S. trading partners to ensure that their fisheries are capable of achieving certification.”

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.