Oceana Demands Mexico and U.S. Fulfill Their Legal Commitments under Trade Agreement to Protect the Oceans
Despite a requirement to uphold environmental laws, Mexico is failing to combat illegal fishing and the United States is failing to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales
Press Release Date: July 14, 2022
Location: Merida, Mexico
Megan Jordan | email: email@example.com | tel: 202.868.4061
During the annual meeting of Parties to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Oceana claims that two years after the countries signed the treaty, Mexico and the United States have failed to comply with their environmental commitments to protect the oceans, putting marine wildlife, fisheries, and fishers at risk. Under the USMCA, public stakeholders can hold any of the three countries accountable for not effectively enforcing their environmental laws.
According to Oceana, Mexico and the United States have failed to uphold their environmental commitments to protect the oceans, including the fight against illegal fishing, the recovery of overexploited species, and the protection of habitats and marine species, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Mariana Aziz, director of Oceana’s transparency campaign in Mexico, explained that Mexico’s lack of action to combat illegal fishing has already had consequences for the country and its fishers. “Mexico has been the subject of several commercial embargoes over the past few years,” she said. “Mexico is losing access to important international markets because we cannot demonstrate the legal origin of our seafood; this not only affects the national economy but also fishers who depend on these markets.”
Mexico’s National Commission for Aquaculture and Fisheries (CONAPESCA in Spanish) estimates that more than 40% of seafood could come from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. In addition, overfishing in Mexico affects 4 out of 10 fish species.
Currently, the United States has a commercial embargo on fish from the Upper Gulf of California. Since February, the United States has prohibited Mexican vessels from the Gulf of Mexico from entering its ports. Last year, from April to October, Mexico lost its certification to export shrimp for failing to meet standards to prevent sea turtle bycatch. Bycatch is the incidental catch of non-target fish and marine wildlife that are caught and often thrown overboard, dead or dying, to avoid counting toward a catch limit.
Oceana is calling on the Mexican government to comply with its obligations regarding fisheries and ocean protection established in the treaty, including that it must 1) approve a traceability standard for fish and shellfish to ensure that the country is not selling products derived from illegal fishing; 2) sign the Port State Measures Agreement; and 3) improve the General Law of Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture (LGPAS in Spanish) that requires authorities to rebuild overexploited, deteriorated, or collapsing fisheries, especially species that have social importance and that a greater number of people depend on.
North Atlantic right whales
Oceana also says the United States is failing to uphold its environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales, which are critically endangered with only around 330 whales remaining. These whales are found along the East Coast of the United States and Canada, and continue to decline in population each year — most recently 8% between 2019 and 2020. The federal government is not fully complying with, implementing, or enforcing several environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales from their primary threats of deadly fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes.
In the fall of 2021, Oceana filed the first-ever complaint, or “Submission on Enforcement Matters,” against the U.S. government under the USMCA. Now the Council members for the USMCA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) must vote to pursue the formal investigation into U.S. failures to enforce its environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales. Should these failures be successfully challenged by Mexico or Canada, the United States could face trade restrictions.
“The United States is clearly violating the terms of the USMCA,” said Gib Brogan, campaign director at Oceana. “The U.S. government cannot require Mexico and Canada to uphold their environmental laws under the USMCA, while failing to enforce its own laws to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. It’s time to hold the United States accountable — the U.S. must do more to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales before they disappear forever. Oceana encourages the CEC Council members to vote yes at this meeting to start the investigation into the United States’ failure to uphold its laws to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction. With only around 330 North Atlantic right whales remaining, the time to act is now.”
To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, visit Oceana.org/RightWhaleToSave.