United States Will Identify Italy As Illegal Driftnetting Country

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(03/15/1999) - The U.S. Secretary of Commerce will today certify that Italy has violated an international ban on driftnet fishing, a process that threatens whales, dolphins, and other species. The Commerce Department is making this identification in response to a March 5 Court of International Trade ruling in New York that the Secretary of Commerce had violated U.S. law by failing to identify Italy as an illegal driftnetting country despite extensive evidence of large-scale driftnetting by Italian vessels.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International. The Italian action violates a 1992 United Nations moratorium on high-seas driftnetting, banned because it threatens marine resources. To enforce the moratorium, U.S. law requires formal identification of countries that engage in illegal driftnetting and ultimately import restrictions if the harmful practices do not cease.

Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund lawyer handling the case, said, "The Secretary of Commerce has flouted his legal obligations to identify Italy as an illegal driftnetter. It has taken a court order to force the Secretary to comply with the law." The identification requires the President to conduct negotiations to end the driftnetting. If the negotiations are not successful by July 15, U.S. law imposes a ban on the import of Italian fish products, valued near $1 billion.

"Once again we have to struggle to get basic environmental rights protected by the world trading system," concluded Defenders Legal Director William Snape.

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