Nations selling seafood to the U.S. must maintain higher standards for protecting whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, according to new regulations announced Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other countries will be required to meet standards equal to what is required of U.S. fishermen under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA Fisheries officials said, a change local fishermen groups applauded.

“It’s fantastic,” Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance CEO John Pappalardo said.

While the U.S. has some of the most conservation-minded fisheries laws in the world, American fishermen are selling in a global marketplace, Pappalardo said.

The cost of domestic regulations to U.S. fishermen cuts into their competitive edge, he said.

“It costs more money to produce that fish,” he said.

Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association members find it difficult to compete with fishermen from other countries because of gear modifications and fishing ground closures required under U.S. law, said Beth Casoni, executive director for the organization.

The association has about 1,800 members from Maine to New Jersey who fish lobster, scallop, conch, groundfish and more.

“We’re very excited about this and the opportunity to see the bar raised in other countries,” Casoni said. “Our fishermen are the most regulated fishermen in the world.”

Nations exporting fish to the U.S. will now need to track and monitor fisheries and whale, dolphin and other marine mammal populations, modify fishing gear, and may even be required to close fishing in some areas to limit entanglement risk, according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Each year around 650,000 whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are unintentionally caught and killed in fishing gear worldwide, according to the center.

The new regulations take effect Jan. 1 but there is a one-time, five-year exemption period to give nations time to assess their marine mammal stocks, and estimate and lower their bycatch.

Currently, more than 120 nations import fish or fish product into the U.S., NOAA spokeswoman Katherine Brogan said.

Since 1972 the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act has prohibited the U.S. from allowing seafood to enter the country unless it meets U.S. whale and dolphin protection standards, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. But for the past 40 years, the federal government has largely ignored the ban, center officials said. In 2014 the center, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Turtle Island Restoration Network sued to enforce the import requirement, which resulted in the regulations announced Thursday.

Among the species that may benefit from the new regulations are the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which feed seasonally in Cape Cod Bay and number about 500 in total, according to the center.

But the new rules could have gone further, local marine mammal advocates said.

“This is a really important step forward,” said Sharon Young, a Cape Cod-based field coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States.

The regulations are not expected to greatly limit seafood choices for consumers, NOAA Fisheries officials said. The agency plans to work with U.S. import partners to ensure that the foreign fisheries affected by the regulations can be certified under the new rules, the agency said.

More equity between the U.S. and other countries is needed in other areas of commercial fishing such as protecting the marine ecosystem and in labor laws, Pappalardo said.

“People on these boats are getting paid $1 a week, basically slaves,” he said about some foreign fisheries.

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