One of the biggest concerns of fishing and marine regulations have always been marine mammals. Their protection started with the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act and reached its peak about a week ago, when on January 5, the U.S. congress decided that importers would have to comply with the same regulations regarding marine mammals as U.S. fisheries and fisherman.

The act was long awaited and guarantees the safety of marine mammals. It also makes sure that all fish imported to the U.S. is held by the same standard as locally caught.

It is the fact, that no international body has been able to force the mammal protection acts to be applied in any country because the compliance is voluntary. With this move, however, the U.S. has finally set a high mark internationally as many Asian economies are highly dependant on their fish exports and 90% of all fish in the U.S. is imported.

Regardless of the many acts aimed at protecting dolphins and whales, fisheries still pose the biggest threat to marine mammals. The goal of the U.S. act is to give an opportunity for foreign fisheries that mainly export their production to the U.S. to comply with their highest standards regulations and ultimately save more whales and dolphins.

On the other hand, the act will level the field for U.S. fisheries that will now be able to have a head start and continue offering their products while importers try to make sure they are adhering to the regulations.

What does this mean for importers?

For one, as of now, all importers to the U.S. need to adhere by U.S. standards and need to prove that. Simply put, all fish imported to the U.S. must be dolphin-safe, and preventive measures must be taken from fisheries to avoid dolphin and whale deaths because of fishery hooks and nets.

In addition, the competition rules will change in the U.S. fish markets. Higher standards mean higher prices and importers will lose part of their competitive advantage over prices in the U.S.

On the positive side, those regulations for mammal protection will sooner or later be enforced in other countries in addition to the U.S. Thus the fisheries that decide to keep importing in the U.S. and accept higher standards for mammal protection now, will have a competitive advantage over their counterparties in the near future.

The bottom line – fisheries that can adapt to the changes quickly will have a competitive advantage even though the new regulations might slow business down in the short term. Fisheries that cannot adhere to the new act will slowly start losing money and eventually disappear with the spread of the regulation standards internationally.

Marine mammal conservation is one of the most important issues that our society and the food and shipping industries face. The new U.S. act, limiting imports of fish that does not adhere to U.S. marine mammal conservation rules, is a step further in the development and growth of the responsibility we are taking for marine life.

If importers want to continue doing business in the U.S. they will need to improve the ways they protect whales and dolphins which in its own way will create long-term competitive advantage and can serve as a differentiation point for businesses on national level.