Challenges and opportunities for the conservation of marine mammals in the Southeast Pacific with the entry into force of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act
With the entry into force of the Fish and Fish Products Import Provisions of the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), countries that export such products to the U.S. market could face significant challenges. Provisions include that fish and fish products exported to the U.S. must come from fisheries with a regulatory program comparable in effectiveness to the U.S. standard. Using three countries in the Southeast Pacific (Chile, Ecuador and Peru) as a case study, the potential economic impacts of the MMPA were analyzed. As a reference, in 2019, this region exported 389 thousand tons valued at US $3.2 billion to the USA in fish and aquaculture products, of which ca. 69% could become subject to commercial restrictions related to the MMPA. In the case of Chile, most exported fish products come from aquaculture, but in Ecuador and Peru they come from small-scale fisheries. Because of the associated costs that countries may incur to comply with MMPA requirements, moving in stages is recommended, first issuing regulatory reforms related to marine mammals protection, and then estimating bycatch rates for each species/population by fishery. Simultaneously, but as a medium-term goal, population estimates to define limits of biological removal should be conducted. Despite the progress in fishing management made by these three countries, with Chile at the forefront, it may still be a challenge for the export fisheries to achieve comparability findings under the MMPA. However, efforts and incentives offer new opportunities for conservation by reducing current levels of marine mammal mortality in fisheries and is already having benefits that could be enhanced if countries address with responsibility the impacts from fisheries on marine mammals populations in the region.