DOLPHIN-SAFE/FAIR TRADE COALITION
"Dolphin Safe" Tuna Label Gutted by U.S. Commerce Secretary
Just One Week after Earth Day, Clinton Administration Betrays Dolphins, U.S. Tuna Industry, and American Consumers
(Washington DC and San Francisco) Today, representatives of the 85-member Dolphin Safe/Fair Trade Campaign, including Earth Island Institute, Humane Society of the U.S., Greenpeace Foundation, ASPCA, Earthtrust, Defenders of Wildlife, SierraClub, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, and other environmental and animal welfare organizations, strongly denounced the decision today by the Secretary of Commerce to weaken the standards for the "Dolphin Safe" label on American tuna cans.
The "dolphin safe" label, before today's decision, could not be used on any tuna caught by chasing and netting of dolphins by fishermen (e.g. "dolphin safe" meant non-encirclement of dolphins). Tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) target dolphins because tuna and dolphins form mixed schools. Over the past four decades, the international tuna fishery has killed more than seven million dolphins. Since 1990 and the advent of the "dolphin safe" tuna program, annual dolphin deaths have decreased by 97% in the ETP.
However, tuna fishermen in Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela teamed up in 1997 with free-trade advocates in the Clinton Administration, including Vice President Gore, and Congress to pass changes in the dolphin safe legislation to undercut U.S. dolphin protection laws and open U.S. markets to dolphin-deadly tuna.
On April 29th, just one week after Earth Day, U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley made a finding, contrary to all available scientific information, that chasing and netting dolphins does NOT cause significant adverse impacts, automatically weakening the standards by which tuna is judged to be "dolphin safe" to 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."
"Scientists, U.S. tuna companies, and the public know that chasing and netting dolphins is not safe for dolphins," stated David Phillips, Director of Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project. "Today's decision is consumer fraud and a death warrant for thousands of dolphins."
Scientists have determined that dolphin populations in the ETP are not recovering, even with the dramatically lower reported kills of recent years. Harassment of dolphins by tuna fishermen and problems arising from the consequent stress are likely factors impacting on dolphin reproduction. "This has been an enormous, and unnecessary, killing of self-aware beings by the millions" said Don White, President of Earthtrust, "and this change in law could cause a huge increase in dolphin sets. There is actually a "kill quota" under dolphin-safe criteria now - the government is actually saying that dead dolphins are safe. And the 5000 kills this law allows will only be the tip of the iceberg, since there will be no way to really count the deaths."
The three major U.S. tuna companies -- StarKist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea -- which together comprise 90% of the U.S. tuna market, have told Commerce Secretary Daley that "...they intend to retain their non-encirclement (of dolphins) policy regardless of the findings that you make..." (Letter February 18, 1999)
"U.S. consumers have made it abundantly clear -- they do not want to buy tuna caught by killing and injuring thousands of dolphins," stated Patricia Forkan, Executive Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States. "The decision by the Secretary is an outrageous attack on environmental protection laws in order to allow Mexico and other dolphin-killing nations access to the lucrative U.S. tuna market. Once again, trade trumps science."
"How can the Secretary ignore his own scientists?" asked Nancy Blaney, Washington, DC, representative of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "This blatant political decision to weaken the 'dolphin safe' label cannot be allowed to stand. Thousands of dolphins' lives are at stake."
"The decision by the Secretary clearly violates the letter and intent of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect dolphins," emphasized William Snape, Legal Director of Defenders of Wildlife. "Secretary Daley's decision was supposed to be based on science, not trade politics."
"Aggressive lobbying by the Mexican tuna industry and its allies has had powerful undue influence on the U.S. political process," stated Christine Stevens, Secretary of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation. "The involvement of sinister drug forces cannot be denied. In one case, the U.S. Coast Guard found twelve tons of cocaine with a estimated street value of $1 billion hidden in the specially altered holds of a tuna boat."
The environmental coalition, having secured the
pledge of the three largest tuna companies in the world to buy
and sell only truly "dolphin safe" tuna (e.g. tuna
caught without encircling dolphins with the deadly nets), pledged
to continue to line up support from other retail and wholesale
outlets for tuna, including restaurants, supermarket chains,
and other institutions. Furthermore, a federal lawsuit charging
that the Secretary's decision was arbitrary and capricious is
being readied by the groups.