Government joins lawsuit in bid to stop ban on seafood exports to US

There are only around 60 of the endangered dolphins left in the world.
There are only around 60 of the endangered dolphins left in the world. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd

The New Zealand Government has become involved in a lawsuit that threatens to put a halt on Kiwi seafood exports to the US.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year by environmental group Sea Shepherd, in a bid to protect the endangered Māui dolphin.

It was filed against the US Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, NOAA Fisheries and the US Treasury Department.

The legal action argues that according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), US agencies are required to prohibit imports from foreign fisheries that fail to prevent bycatch of marine mammals in line with US standards.

Sea Shepherd says New Zealand fails to meet these standards in regards to the Māui dolphin and therefore the US must stop buying seafood exports from New Zealand.

It's estimated there are only around 60 Māui dolphins left in the world.

But now the New Zealand Government has joined the US agencies in defending the lawsuit in the United States Court of International Trade.

According to a motion requesting intervention, the New Zealand Government claims it would be "adversely affected or aggrieved" if the ban went ahead.

The document says the Government "seeks permission to demonstrate that the analyses that the plaintiffs have submitted to date are riddled with numerous factual errors and flawed assumptions".

It also states that an "import ban would likely require the NZG [New Zealand Government] to take additional actions and conduct additional analyses that would impose significant burdens".

A spokesperson for the Ministry for Primary Industries told Newshub: "New Zealand took the decision to take part in this case in order to provide the court with information about the measures being taken to protect Māui dolphins. In particular, that these measures are at least comparable to requirements in similar circumstances in the United States."

Michael Lawry, managing director of Sea Shepherd NZ, said the Government's move "shows that they're certainly interested and concerned".

"It doesn't make their science any better," he told Newshub.

Lawry said he had confidence in Sea Shepherd's experts 

"We think we've got a pretty strong case."

According to Newsroom, a ban - if it were to go ahead - could cost $2 million a year in exports coming from Māui habitat. However, without a programme to prove exactly where fish are caught, the ban could affect up to $200 million of exports. 

Earlier this year Seafood New Zealand's chief executive Jeremy Helson told Newshub there had been no Māui dolphin deaths reported due to fishing since 2002. He also said research showed fishers might currently capture one Māui dolphin every nine years, which is below the level of capture needed to ensure the long-term viability of the dolphin's population.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has been approached for comment.