Sea Shepherd Seeks Injunction Against U.S. Agencies to Save Critically Endangered Māui Dolphin

Wednesday, 08 Jul, 2020

Legal action aims to prevent the loss of a rare dolphin species at risk of imminent extinction due to irresponsible industrial fishing practices.

July 1, 2020 - Sea Shepherd filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction yesterday in the U.S. Court of International Trade relating to its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, NOAA Fisheries, and the Treasury Department. The purpose of the motion is to ensure that swift action is taken to prevent the impending extinction of New Zealand’s Māui dolphin. Scientists advise that the death of even one Māui dolphin could mean loss of the entire species. 


The lawsuit, filed last month, cites violations of the “imports provision” of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This provision requires that these U.S. agencies prohibit imports from foreign fisheries, like New Zealand’s gillnet and trawl fisheries, that fail to meet U.S. standards of marine mammal bycatch prevention. A preliminary injunction, if granted, will force the defendants and New Zealand to act immediately to protect Māui dolphins from bycatch during the coming months or years before final judgment is rendered in the lawsuit.


The decline of the Māui dolphin, which at last count consisted of an estimated 57 individuals, is eerily similar to the fate of Mexico’s vaquita porpoise – the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Sea Shepherd has been working tirelessly to protect the vaquita since 2014. Like the vaquita, the Māui dolphin has an extremely small range, occupying only the coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Also similar to the vaquita, the greatest threat to the Māui dolphin is entanglement in fishing nets. Unlike the perils facing the vaquita, however, the nets that drown the Māui dolphin are legally sanctioned by government authorities.


Despite being so perilously close to extinction, the government of New Zealand continues to allow the use of gillnets and trawls within the Māui dolphin’s range. “New Zealand has an obligation to protect the iconic Māui dolphin,” says Brett Sommermeyer, Legal Director for Sea Shepherd Legal. “Government officials there are well aware that the only effective way to do so is to prohibit the use of gillnets and trawl in its habitat.” New Zealand’s recent decision on its Threat Management Plan announced just last week is “wholly insufficient,” says Sommermeyer, emphasizing, “it clearly places economics before conservation and leaves a substantial portion of the dolphin’s habitat unprotected.” 

Top photo: Maui off Manukau Heads.

Maui dolphin off Manukau Heads February 2019
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