The US State Department suspended Mexico from exporting wild shrimp into the US on 30 April 2021 after deeming Mexico’s measures to protect sea turtles insufficient. An executive at the National Chamber of the Fishing and Aquaculture Industry in Mexico commented, “As soon as we learned of the situation that some boats were not complying with the use of turtle excluder devices (“TEDs”) and that this would entail a sanction, we approached the authorities, in this case, the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Commissioner to go to Washington to look for alternative solutions.”
US fishing embargoes in the wild shrimp industry are rare as the US State Department has approved harvesting practices in more than 40 countries. In this instance, both sides seem keen to work out a solution and on 13 August 2021, both parties agreed on an expedited process to lift the embargo and put it on hold pending later requests for records.
An industry executive was hopeful that a resolution would be found very soon, “We are confident of achieving recertification quickly, we estimate that by the end of September, we should have the certification again. We are already retraining in the proper use of TEDs – the reason for the ban. It is expected that the relevant authorities will visit in the first days of the new season with a view to certifying the industry again.”
“We are confident of achieving recertification quickly, we estimate that by the end of September, we should have the certification again.”
Shrimp industry executive, Mexico
The continuation of an embargo would have serious consequences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) data shows that 25,664,603 kg of shrimp were exported from Mexico to the US in 2020 with a value of USD 265,723,649 while for 2019, it reported 29,552,723 kg with a value of USD 304,2012,514.
More than 63,000 fishermen and almost 240,000 Mexican people depend on the shrimp fishing industry in Mexico, mostly carried out in the Pacific Coast of the country. The lifting of the embargo has been given top priority status by Mexican authorities which formed a negotiating team consisting in senior officials of the Ministries of Agriculture, Economy and Foreign Relations.
The industry executive was quick to highlight that the blame should be laid at the feet of the Mexican authorities, “It is important to understand that certification is the responsibility of the government, it qualifies the sanctions and infractions it issues. The authorities clearly need more resources to monitor the industry to ensure that we all comply with the rules and identify and punish those who do wrong. That way, reputable fisherman are not hit by collateral damage.”
Mexico has vowed to keep all communication channels with the US State Department open with the aim of addressing the issue. At present, the Mexican negotiating team is cooperating with experts of the National Fishing Commission (“Conapesca”) and the National Fishing Institute (“Inapesca”) to put forward a sea turtle conservation plan for US authorities. Members of the Mexican negotiating delegation are convinced that the embargo will be totally lifted once the plan is completed.
“As an industry, we must understand that there is no other way than to meet the needs of sustainability if we want to have a future.”
Shrimp industry representative, Mexico
An industry representative felt that this latest episode was a clear example that the entire sector had to take the sustainability of their practices seriously, “As an industry, we must understand that there is no other way than to meet the needs of sustainability if we want to have a future. We can not fish only for the monetary gain, we need to respect the natural limits, and we must do it hand in hand with all relevant authorities. It is the only option if we want fishing to continue to be a source of well-being for fishermen.“