Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 3 July 1999


Tuna-Dolphin Update

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


In 1997 the U.S. Congress passed the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA) which required the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to research the effects of repeated chase and encirclement of dolphins in the ETP and to provide data for determining whether or not dolphin safe tuna labeling should be changed under U.S. law.

On the 29th of April, 1999, the United States Commerce Department announced that it would be adopting new standards for dolphin-safe tuna. As opposed to the old labeling requirement, which demanded that dolphins could not even be approached by nets, the new label would allow for nets to be set on dolphins. A dolphin safe label could then be applied to any tuna caught that does not cause serious injury or death of dolphins.

Commerce made their decision based on a preliminary series of studies of dolphin populations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). Commerce, through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concluded that there was not enough evidence to show that three depleted dolphin stocks were "significantly adversely impacted".

However, according to the U.S. government press release on this issue, "The study consisted of dolphin stock abundance surveys and stress studies of dolphins encircled by purse seine nets. The study was scientifically reviewed by three separate, independent panels, including one requested by the Congress. Three of the eight major stocks of dolphins present in the ETP (Northeastern offshore spotted dolphin, Eastern spinner dolphin and coastal spotted dolphin) were of concern to scientists due to their depleted status. While two of the three stocks appear to be growing at lower rates than expected, fisheries service scientists were not able to identify a cause-and-effect relationship based on available data."

It is this last phrase that is problematic. Given that cetaceans - and indeed all marine life - face an increasing array of environmental threats, a more precautionary approach to the issue is warranted. The fact that two depleted species are not recuperating as quickly as possible, in spite of the increasing success of the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) programme in reducing the numbers of dolphin deaths each year in the EPO fishery, should be cause for concern. It is to be hoped that as the NMFS continues its research into this subject, with a review due in 2001, that more emphasis is placed on the need for protecting depleted stocks of dolphin in particular.

At the latest meeting of the IATTC in Ecuador, it was confirmed that the number of dolphin deaths in the EPO tuna fishery had fallen to below 2,000 for 1998. Many nations present, including the European Union, made known their intention to ratify the new International Dolphin Conservation Program Agreement. Now that the IDCPA treaty is in force, it is critical that member governments ensure that enforcement of the treaty's rules takes place.


As reported in the April 1999 Whales Alive!, the three largest U.S. tuna processing companies (StarKist, BumbleBee and VanKamp's/Chicken of the Sea) have stated that they will not change their current usage of the dolphin safe label. CSI urges its members and readers to contact the companies to encourage them to maintain this policy:

BumbleBee, P.O. Box 85362, San Diego, CA 92186. Tel: 619-715-4000. Fax: 619-560-6045.

Chicken of the Sea, P.O. Box 85568, San Diego, CA 92138. Tel: 619-558-9662. Fax: 619-597-4574.

StarKist Corporate Affairs, H. J. Heinz, P.O. Box 57, Pittsburgh, PA 15230. Tel: 412-456-6000.


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