Dolphin Safe Label Saves Dolphins!

Earth Island Institute’s response to the recent Forbes OP ED

By David Phillips and Mark Palmer

The recent guest opinion by the Cato Institute’s K. William Watson “Dolphin Safe Label on Canned Tuna is a Fraud”, April 29, 2015 is full of more holes than a tuna net. Mr. Watson should get his facts straight.

But before analyzing the Cato Institute’s latest diatribe against Dolphin Safe tuna, it is important to recognize that the Cato Institute was founded by notorious anti-environmentalist Charles Koch and is largely funded by the oil industry. Cato promotes some of the most egregious climate deniers, fronts for the world’s most environmentally destructive companies, and opposes recycling and any labeling of genetically engineered products, so it is no surprise that they would attack Dolphin Safe Tuna or virtually any other environmentally based program.

When we began our Earth Island campaign against the killing of dolphins in tuna nets in 1987, 99,700 dolphins died in nets that year, according to government scientists. The Dolphin Safe label was established in 1990, and within two years, the deaths of dolphins had dramatically declined to less than a few thousand a year. Last year, onboard observers counted 800 dolphins killed in tuna nets. Even the Cato Institute must recognize this as a major victory for dolphins and the environment. But this success occurred long before the International Dolphin Conservation Program was put into place, contrary to Watson’s claim.

Dead Dolphins

Watson objects to Dolphin Safe meaning “one particular fishing method was not used in one particular part of the ocean.” However, this is not just any fishing method. The deliberate targeting of dolphins, chasing them with speedboats, encircling them with mile-long nets, and keeping them captive for hours is the single most destructive fishery for marine mammals in history. More than 7 million dolphins have been killed by this method, according to peer-reviewed scientific papers, dwarfing the minimal dolphin mortality by all other purse seine methods. Dolphins only associate with tuna in one part of the ocean. For this reason, the Dolphin Safe label has always properly focused on ending the method of fishing “on dolphin.”

Watson is dead wrong that this is all the Dolphin Safe label means. In fact, the federal Dolphin Safe law includes provisions that no dolphins can be killed or seriously injured in any ocean by any tuna fishing method, in order to qualify for the Dolphin Safe label. Watson (and his Greenpeace source) needs to go back and read the actual law.

Watson falls for Mexico’s false claim that the WTO ruled against the US on the grounds that the Dolphin Safe label should be applied to Mexico’s “Russian roulette” method of chasing and encircling dolphins, only to label Dolphin Safe those instances when an onboard observer sees no dolphin die. In fact, research by the US National Marine Fisheries Service has shown that the intentional setting on dolphins results in thousands of uncounted dolphin deaths by separating mothers from their dependent young calves. Baby dolphins are left behind when the dolphin pod is chased by tuna fishermen, resulting in the death of these babies from starvation or predators. The populations of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific have been shown to be depleted and stressed by tuna fishing. Mexico refuses to recognize these scientific facts.

The WTO decision, which Watson also has apparently not read, agreed that US law blocking Mexico’s dolphin-deadly tuna from obtaining a Dolphin Safe label is justified on scientific grounds. The WTO agreed with the US that the Dolphin Safe standards of no encirclement of dolphins are an important conservation measure. The WTO’s concerns with the US law is that there are not uniform regulations confirming that no dolphins died in tuna nets in other tuna fisheries.

Watson cites “FAD-free” tuna as something that is opposed to the Dolphin Safe label. Here again, his facts are wrong. Earth Island has worked with Safeway, Cost-co and various canners around the world to produce “FAD-free” tuna that is caught without harming dolphins, by setting nets on free schools of tuna. There is no inconsistency.

Earth Island has also worked with the tuna industry and the Regional Fisheries Management Agencies to require sea turtles to be released alive from tuna nets and to release sharks without any shark finning. Watson could have learned about these efforts had he done real research, instead of swallowing Mexican government propaganda hook, line, and sinker. The true fraud is Watson and the Cato Institute spreading lies to cover up their pimping for those who disdain any consumer labeling and making it sound like they actually care about whether dolphins live or die.




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