Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 4 October 1997


Tuna/Dolphin...The New Frontier

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


The tuna dolphin issue is about to take off in a new direction, as governments gather together in La Jolla, California at the end of this month to try and draft a binding international agreement for the protection of dolphins and the marine ecosystem of the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). This agreement has come to be known as the Panama Declaration.

From October 28th through the 31st, the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) will host a special session of those nations involved in purse seine tuna fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, in response to new United States legislation on the issue, passed in late July by Congress, and signed into law by President Clinton on August 11.

The new legislation, which was the subject of much contention within the environmental community, will allow for lifting of the yellowfin tuna embargoes on those nations which continue to set nets on dolphins, but only if the governments involved can agree upon a strict international regime that is legally binding. Until such time as a mandatory international accord is in place, and is enacted into the legislation of the various countries involved, then technically the embargoes will stay in place.

Given this, there is a great deal of impetus going in to the La Jolla meeting to try and hammer out an agreement. Despite past discords, all environmental organizations seem to be of the same mind that the development of the Panama Declaration must be as solid and as strong as possible. Of key importance to many conservation and animal groups is the concept that dolphin deaths in the EPO must be eliminated, and that the number of dolphin mortalities allowed under the IATTC's International Dolphin Conservation Program (IDCP) must continue to decline to zero. Both concepts had been accepted in the 1992 IDCP text, and such language must be continued over into any new treaty if support from the environmental community is to be expected.

Upon completion of the Panama Declaration there will be the need to follow up on other aspects of the U.S. legislation, namely development of a strict tracking and monitoring program for tuna caught in the EPO, being able to follow the tuna from "sea to shelf", that is from the time it is caught until it hits your local supermarket as canned tuna.

Also, the U.S. has agreed that no change in the dolphin safe label will occur until such time as the results of a study on the effects of encircling dolphins with tuna nets has been completed, and shows that no detriment to dolphin stocks has happened. CSI continues to be concerned about the negative effects of encircling dolphins with fishing nets, and hopes that new technologies can be explored to ensure that dolphins do not suffer.

Whales Alive! plans to carry an article in its next edition, outlining the results of the October IATTC meeting. Hopefully, the new Panama Declaration will actively help to save dolphin lives, and not be merely a placebo. And consumers must continue to question the industry on its practices, and push it to constantly improve.


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© Copyright 1997, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

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