Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 1 January 1998

Tuna/Dolphin Update

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board

In the final week of October, 1997, representatives from 15 nations met in La Jolla, California to discuss the future direction of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the international fisheries body that manages tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). Delegates to the meeting attempted to negotiate a legally-binding agreement which would have confirmed the elements of the Panama Declaration, as called for under US law passed this summer by Congress. In spite of long hours, the meeting failed to reach a conclusion.

It is surprising that the nations in attendance at the meeting could not reach an accord, as there had been a huge incentive to finalize a legally- binding agreement; if such an agreement could have been reached, then the current US embargoes on tuna products from Latin American nations such as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela would begin to be lifted.

As reported in the last issue of Whales Alive!, the conservation community continues to be concerned about the issue of ensuring ongoing reductions in dolphin mortality in the EPO fishery, with a goal of eliminating dolphin mortality. In a combined statement to the IATTC meeting, five environmental groups - among them Greenpeace and WWF - stated that the cornerstone of any agreement for dolphin conservation in the EPO would be "the establishment of individual vessel dolphin mortality limits for each stock of dolphins impacted by the fishery...to ensure continued progress in reducing dolphin deaths."

It was this discussion of individual vessel dolphin mortality limits, or DMLs as they are known, that was at the heart of the debate in La Jolla. DMLs are determined by dividing the overall dolphin mortality cap by the number of boats. Some governments felt that the DML system is too restrictive, and would eventually lead to their fleets surpassing their alloted DML and thus calling into question a potential for future US economic action against them. The US continued to maintain a position in support of DMLs, and one that called upon the fishing nations in the EPO to reduce the overall take of dolphins.

A key concern raised in the hallways of the meeting was the potential impact on both the dolphins and the EPO tuna fishery of an influx of several new large purse seiners. The EPO is one of the healthiest tuna fisheries left in the world. Both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean tuna fisheries have collapsed, and European tuna vessels in particular are searching for new potential supplies of tuna, and several Spanish vessels have indicated that they will fish in the EPO. Such discussions are also vitally linked to the DML issue: if more boats come into the EPO and ask for DMLs, then the DML would be lower, thus making it more difficult for fishermen to comply with the IATTC regulations. Hence the ofttimes heated debate.

As a result of the impasse, the US has offered to host another meeting of the IATTC in order to continue the negotiations to create a legally-binding framework for the Eastern Pacific tuna fisheries and for dolphin conservation in that fishery. The meeting is scheduled to take place in La Jolla from the 2nd through the 6th of February, 1998. Expect an update on the results of the meeting in the next issue of Whales Alive!.

Another of the issues raised by conservationists and animal welfare groups in informal sessions with the US delegation to the October meeting was that of the potential harassment of dolphins during their encirclement by tuna purse seiners in the EPO. A study of the effects of encirclement was mandated in this past summer's legislation, and the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been charged with carrying out the study. If anyone has any questions or comments as to the study and how it will be undertaken, they should direct their enquiries to Dr. Elizabeth Edwards or Barbara Curry at NMFS in La Jolla at (tel) 619-546-7000.

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