European Cetacean Bycatch banner loading

"Man is but a strand in the complex web of life"

Internal links buttons



Bush Administration Double-Speak: "Dolphin Safe" Tuna Label Allows Killing Dolphins!

Bush’s Commerce Secretary Decision Betrays Dolphins, U.S. Tuna Industry, and American Consumers

Submitted by International Marine Mammal Project
December 31, 2002

David Phillips (415) 788-3666
Mark J. Palmer (530) 758-6022 or (415) 788-3666 x139

San Francisco, CA -- Earth Island Institute today condemned the decision by President Bush's Commerce Secretary, Donald Evans, to weaken the standards for the "Dolphin Safe" label on American tuna cans.

"The Bush Administration's claim that chasing and netting of dolphins is 'safe' for dolphins is fraudulent and must be overturned by the courts," stated David Phillips, Director of Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project. "The Bush Administration is selling out dolphins in order to reward Mexican tuna millionaires. If the Secretary's decision is left intact, 20-40,000 dolphins each year will be sacrificed, and falsely labeled Mexican tuna will be on the U.S. market as 'Dolphin Safe.' We cannot allow that to occur."

Earlier in December, Earth Island Institute released a Report by the Commerce Department's own scientists showing that the chasing and netting of dolphins was harming dolphin populations and separating dolphin babies from their mothers.

Environmentalists contend that the U.S. Commerce Secretary's decision, which now allows a new weaker definition of "Dolphin Safe", is arbitrary and capricious. The successful federal "Dolphin Safe" tuna program is being jeopardized by the federal government's weakening of U.S. dolphin protection laws to accommodate tuna millionaires in Mexico and other countries in the name of "free trade," not science. The decision by Commerce further ignores two federal court rulings against a similar decision, made in 1999 by former Commerce Secretary William Daley, in the court case "Brower v. Evans."

Added Phillips: "We will be seeing the Bush Administration in court, as this decision is clearly illegal."

Groups opposing the weakened "Dolphin Safe" tuna label include biologist and dolphin activist Samuel LaBudde, Jean-Michel Cousteau, the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Fund, Oceanic Society, and Friends of the Earth.

Before today's action by the Secretary, the "Dolphin Safe" label could not be used for any tuna caught by chasing and netting of dolphins (e.g. "Dolphin Safe" meant no encirclement of dolphins with deadly nets). Tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) target dolphins because tuna and dolphins form mixed schools. Since 1990 and the advent of the "Dolphin Safe" tuna program, dolphin deaths have decreased by 98% in the ETP.

However, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans has made the finding, contrary to all available scientific information, that chasing and netting dolphins does NOT cause significant adverse impacts. In fact, biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the Dept. of Commerce, have determined that depleted dolphin populations are NOT recovering in the ETP, and that the cause is almost certainly due to the deadly nets of the tuna fishing industry. NMFS scientists determined that chasing and netting dolphins separates mothers from dependent calves and that the chase and capture causes severe physiological stress. Many dolphins suffer injuries in the nets and die after release, but are not counted by the on-board observer. There are also reports that on-board observers are reporting false dolphin mortality numbers, either through intimidation or bribery, and that smaller vessels without observers are illegally setting nets and drowning dolphins, as occurred this spring in the Galapagos Islands.

The Secretary's action automatically weakens the standards by which tuna is judged to be "Dolphin Safe" to now allow chase, harassment, netting, injuring, and even killing of dolphins when catching tuna, so long as an on-board observer reports no dolphins killed outright or "seriously injured." Tuna caught by this destructive method of chasing and netting dolphins can now be labeled "Dolphin Safe." U.S. tuna fishermen no longer set nets on dolphins, and the major U.S. tuna processors -- StarKist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea -- have pledged they will not buy tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins. The primary beneficiary of the Secretary's decision is Mexico, although Venezuela, Colombia, and several other Latin nations continue to chase and net dolphins to catch tuna. Only Mexico has so far been certified by the Department of Commerce to import tuna.

It is believed that many of the Mexican, Venezuelan, and Colombian tuna companies are also involved in large-scale smuggling of cocaine and other illegal drugs, using the large tuna clippers to carry tons of drugs from the Colombian cartels into Mexican waters. More than two-thirds of U.S. illegal cocaine supply is smuggled across the border through Mexico. Several large tuna purse seiners have been caught by U.S. Coast Guard authorities off the coast of Mexico with record loads of cocaine hidden on board. In Venezuela, cocaine is called "atun blanco" or "white tuna."

"The American public deserves to know the truth about how tuna was caught," Phillips stated. "The Secretary's decision to deliberately lie to American consumers benefits a small handful of Mexican tuna millionaires and drug lords, who can now import tuna to the U.S. using a phony "Dolphin Safe" label. All of the major U.S. and European tuna processors have pledged not to buy or sell such tuna. American consumers won't buy tuna stained by the blood of dolphins."

* * * *
Earth Island Institute is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to protecting the diversity of life on Earth. The International Marine Mammal Project works to protect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals around the world.

VIDEO AVAILABLE: Broadcast quality video footage by Samuel LaBudde of the devastating effects of tuna nets on dolphins is available by calling Earth Island (415) 788-3666.