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Dolphin safe tuna label weakening

Rebuttal of Greenpeace USA's email response to tuna/dolphin queries.

By Dr. Naomi Rose (Humane Society of the U.S.)

I offer the following point for point rebuttal of Greenpeace USA's email response to tuna/dolphin queries.

1. Greenpeace USA - As it stands (prior to today's decision by the US Commerce Department), the "dolphin-safe" label could only be used on a can in which the tuna contained in that can was not caught through the dolphin "encirclement" method. So this label refers only to a specific type of fishing method.

Dr. ROSE - The dolphin-safe label will *still* only refer to a specific type of fishing method. Greenpeace USA and the other NGOs who supported the label definition change have been implying (or even outright saying) that the new definition is *stronger* because it has a "no-mortality" standard rather than a "no-encirclement" standard, the implication being that this no-mortality standard applies to all tuna caught in any tuna fishery. This is NOT TRUE. The new definition applies a no-mortality (to be precise, a no-observed-mortality) standard only to the ETP purse seine fishery. In all other tuna fisheries, true incidental take may still occur and that tuna will be considered dolphin-safe (that's the way it is under the current definition -- the definition never meant absolutely no dolphins died in catching the tuna in the can; it meant that the purse seine encirclement of dolphins [or drift nets] was not used. This fishing method, accurately called "inherently flawed" by GreenpeaceUSA once upon a time, was targeted by environmental and animal protection groups because it is the only fishing method that intentionally inflicts harm on a marine mammal to catch fish).

To sum up -- the
old definition prohibited dolphin mortality in the ETP using the encirclement method of fishing because the encirclement of dolphins was not allowed. The new definition claims to prohibit dolphin mortality in the ETP using the encirclement method of fishing because an observer will certify whether he saw any dead dolphins when encirclement is used. Which is stronger? The one that prohibits the "inherently flawed" fishing method altogether or the one that does not? Both can claim a no-mortality standard for that fishing method but only the first is guaranteed, since the fishing method is not used.

2. Greenpeace USA - And while the dolphin-safe label scheme did produce an initial 20% reduction in the number of "encirclements" targetting some tuna, it failed to achieve its overall goal -- during the 1990s, many countries that use the encirclement method simply found other nations in which to sell their tuna.

- It is true that the ultimate goal of the dolphin-safe label was the elimination of dolphin sets and that in its first half-decade, it resulted in "only" a 20% or so reduction in dolphin sets. But why did this reduction occur? Just out of the goodness of the fishermen's hearts? Just because the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), out of the goodness of *its* collective heart, asked the fishermen to stop using this method and a few fishermen listened and did so? I don't think so. The only reason the reduction in sets occurred was because the U.S. fishermen stopped making dolphin sets altogether (because our law told them to) and because a few foreign fleet boats did too (all Ecuadorian boats, for instance, stopped setting on dolphins and were able to continue importing their tuna to the U.S.).

But at the same time, a reduction in mortality,
even when dolphin sets were still used, occurred. As GreenpeaceUSA notes, there was a massive drop, from tens of thousands to less than 5000, in mortality of dolphins. The IATTC refers to this as "improved performance" and it is largely attributable to the back-down procedure, where, instead of hauling dolphins on board with the tuna (which was invariably fatal to the dolphins), the fishermen release the dolphins alive (traumatized, stressed, injured, but alive) before hauling the tuna aboard. Why did the fishermen start using this procedure (developed and perfected by the U.S. fleet)? Because of our dolphin-safe standard. But our dolphin-safe standard says no-encirclement. So how does the back-down have anything to do it? Because the foreign fleet didn't want to stop setting on dolphins -- it's cheap, easy and convenient -- but they wanted to sell their tuna to the lucrative U.S. market. They were hoping that improved performance would satisfy us -- that we would accept [lowered kills] over elimination of dolphin sets. And guess what? We didn't. So they got frustrated and went to the U.S. State Department and to GreenpeaceUSA, CMC, EDF, WWF, and National Wildlife Federation and asked them to "fix the problem."

And they did.
By *weakening* the goal of dolphin-safe from" elimination of dolphin encirclement" to "improved performance" of an *inherently flawed* fishing method. That doesn't sound like progress to me.

3. Greenpeace USA - This does not mean GreenpeaceUSA doesn't support some kind of label for tuna. When originally created in 1990, GreenpeaceUSA did emphatically support a "dolphin-safe" label, because it signalled an awareness by fishing nations that there was a problem in the tuna fishery, and helped heighten awareness among the general public. This can only be seen as a positive thing.

Dr. ROSE - A compromised and fraudulent label is worse than no label at all. It would have been better to get rid of the label altogether than to retain it while making it mean something else. If this issue is confusing, the fault lies entirely with the Administration and the five NGOs that supported the label definition change.

4. Greenpeace USA - There has actually been dramatic success in reducing dolphin deaths in this tuna fishery, but GreenpeaceUSA does not believe that the label was responsible for this. Rather we attribute this mostly to an agreement between 12 nations who fish for tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific ocean, to reduce the number of dolphins killed during fishing activities.

Dr. ROSE - Why did [this] "La Jolla agreement" come about? What motivated the 12 nations to negotiate this agreement? What motivated the other 11 nations to adopt the back-down, developed by the U.S., when they do not have laws similar to the Marine Mammal Protection Act? The U.S. *had* to improve its performance and then eliminate encirclement altogether, by law. The other nations didn't. So why did they agree to implement the back-down (and the other elements of the La Jolla agreement, such as no night sets, no explosives, etc.)?

It was not out of the goodness of their hearts. If GreenpeaceUSA really believes this, they are naive. If they don't really believe this, it is shocking that they would keep telling the public this as if they do.

The reason the La Jolla agreement came about was because, as I noted above, the other IATTC nations (and Mexico, which is *still* not a member, although it has the biggest fleet in the ETP)
wanted to find a shortcut to satisfying the U.S.' dolphin protection