The Department of Commerce and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have issued a Notice extending the exemption period for the import provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which affects the import of fish and fish products, for another two years until Dec. 31, 2025.
The Import Provisions section of the MMPA prohibits the importation of commercial fish or products from fish which have been caught with commercial fishing technology that results in the incidental death or serious injury of ocean mammals in excess of United States standards. Fish and fish product imports from exempt or export fisheries can only be imported into the U.S. if the harvesting nation has applied for and received a comparability finding from the NMFS.
The original 2016 Final Rule outlined the conditions for the comparability finding, which measure the effectiveness of the harvesting nation’s regulatory program as compared to the U.S. regulatory program, as well as the procedure for issuing a comparability finding.
The 2016 Final Rule also stipulated that there would be an exemption period, which was initially set at five years. Since then, the Department of Commerce and NMFS determined that additional time was necessary to complete the evaluation process, given the large number of foreign fisheries, the evolving nature of fisheries data, and the practical challenges of assessing the comparability of the regulatory programs in foreign countries.
NMFS explained that this exemption period was necessary to provide harvesting nations with adequate time to assess marine mammal stocks, estimate bycatch, and develop regulatory programs that mitigate that bycatch.
Therefore, in October, 2022 the NMFS extended the exemption period by another year to Dec. 31, 2023. In deciding to extend the exemption period by another 2 years to Dec. 31, 2025, the NMFS noted that it had received 134 applications for comparability findings from nations involving almost 2,500 foreign fisheries.
And although nations apply for comparability findings for each of their fisheries, comparability determinations are made on a fishery-by-fishery basis, not by country. Thus, individual determinations need to be made for each fishery. To review applications for comparability findings, NMFS evaluates each nation’s regulatory programs to address incidental and intentional mortality and serious injury of marine mammals in each fishery that exports fish and fish products to the United States.
The evaluation includes assessing information provided in the applicants’ submissions and readily available scientific information. The process can also include consulting with applicant nations to clarify ambiguous statutory or regulatory text, address data gaps, or request elaboration on their marine mammal bycatch mitigation regulatory program.
NMFS says this extension will allow it adequate time to ensure that comparability determinations are fairly and consistently applied across harvesting nations and their fisheries. Should NMFS identifies a need to further extend the exemption period or otherwise amend the 2016 final rule to ensure the effectiveness of the regulatory measures of foreign fisheries, it will provide prior notice, solicit public comment, and finalize any such amendments within the extended exemption period provided under this rule.
To stay informed on trade news and other important updates, stay connected with a customs broker.