Sixteen months ago, New Zealand seafood producers faced an immediate ban on exports of nine species of fish to the United States. The ban was a result of court action taken two years earlier by conservation activists at Sea Shepherd. They had fears that our precious Māui dolphin were heading rapidly towards extinction. While it is true that this taonga species is critically endangered, science has shown that our tiny dolphin faced threats from several factors, including some forms of fishing, pollution, and (crucially) the disease toxoplasmosis. 
Sea Shepherd has also been active in Mexico, fighting to save the vaquita dolphin, working with local authorities to remove illegal nets. But in New Zealand, the situation was quite different. Kiwi commercial fishers had been progressively moving further and further away from known Māui dolphin territory for years. 
In 2008, the Ministry for Primary Industries launched a Threat Management Plan, which included restrictions for fishing activities on the west coast of the North Island. In 2020, a revised plan was announced that banned certain types of fishing from some areas and pushed other activity even further offshore. Cabinet papers from the time show that analysts believed implementing the new restrictions in the north and south (for both Hector’s and Māui dolphins) would result in a total annual revenue loss of $5.58 million to commercial fishers. Nevertheless, fishers adapted. And we were confident that the strict measures in place were more than what was needed to protect the Māui population.
Sea Shepherd was not satisfied however. It decided to launch a court action halfway round the world in the US, using local legal requirements which ban exports from countries that don’t have endangered animal protection standards equivalent to the United States.
In late 2022, the US Court of International Trade ordered an immediate ban on some New Zealand seafood as a temporary measure while the US government assessed New Zealand’s management approach. The exports affected were snapper, tarakihi, spotted dogfish, trevally, warehou, hoki, barracouta, mullet, and gurnard from the inshore trawl fishery and inshore gillnet fishery off the west coast of the North Island. That ban was estimated to cost New Zealand around $2 million a year. 
The legal action was against the US Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and the US Treasury. 
NOAA then did a fresh comparability assessment and that showed New Zealand’s measures were comparable in all respects to US standards under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.
That means the management New Zealand has in place has been tested to the highest standard and has passed the test. 
As our CEO Jeremy Helson said to media this week, “We were confident all along that the management systems in place to protect Māui dolphin were robust and comprehensive. We are pleased that the US Government has agreed with that position and effectively endorsed the New Zealand management regime.”
It’s been a long process and it is not necessarily over. But we have been internationally recognised for our fisheries management, even if, in this case, it had to happen the hard way.