To prevent widespread sale of dolphin-deadly tuna mis-labeled as “dolphin safe” in the USA and worldwide. Dolphins are still dying in tuna nets.

The campaign for a dolphin-safe tuna fishery, which Greenpeace Foundation has worked on as a core issue since 1976, is not permanently won. Dolphins are still dying in tuna nets, due to a U.S. bailout of dolphin-killing nations, and U.S. legislation which gutted U.S. dolphin-protection law and would fraudulently re-define the term “dolphin safe.”

The campaign for a dolphin-safe tuna fishery, which Greenpeace Foundation has worked on as a core issue since 1976, is not permanently won. Dolphins are still dying in tuna nets, due to a U.S. bailout of dolphin-killing nations, and U.S. legislation which gutted U.S. dolphin-protection law and would fraudulently re-define the term “dolphin safe.”

Under the excuse of “free trade”, the U.S. administration has since the Clinton-Gore years agreed with Mexico to get rid of high U.S. dolphin-safe standards. This has been supported by a few turncoat “big green” organizations who were cozy to the Administration’s agenda; and apparently had the indirect support of notorious drug cartel figures in Central America who opposed the previous tuna embargo threats on dolphin-deadly tuna from their canneries.

Congress passed the “dolphin death bills” in 1997 to falsely redefine “dolphin safe”, and to open the U.S. market once again to dolphin-deadly tuna. While conservationists haven’t allowed it to happen, this remains U.S. Policy. It is still a risk that U.S. product standards be permanently traded away to Mexico and other nations under “free trade” rules.

Let your voice be heard on this issue. Become involved with the campaign, and contribute what you can. The survival of dolphins in the Eastern Pacific and elsewhere is ultimately at stake, as are your rights as a U.S. citizen to unencumbered free educational speech, which is what accurate labeling laws amount to.

The tuna industry’s direct kill of dolphins by intentionally chasing and encircling them with “purse seine” nets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) is the largest documented kill of marine mammals in history (described below).This appalling kill of millions of highly intelligent, social beings was initially curbed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), which set a goal of “insignificant kills approaching zero” and set annually declining “kill quotas” for what was then mostly a U.S. fleet. The mandated observer program drastically undercounted dolphin kills (due to harassment and threats against the observers onboard tuna boats), but still achieved a lessening of kill levels.

However, due to these “killing restrictions”, most tuna “purse seining” vessels left U.S. registry to fly the flags of other nations and not be bound by MMPA quotas. (Today the biggest national fleet setting nets on dolphins is Mexico.)

After dramatic undercover footage shot by independent activist Sam LaBudde in 1988 showed a central American vessel conducting huge dolphin kills, the issue was re-galvanized in the US and world media. The SF-based Earth Island Institute led a national boycott of Starkist tuna, world’s largest tuna firm. Starkist announced in 1990 that it had become “dolphin safe”. This term had no legal meaning for a year, but a reasonable definition of “dolphin safe’ was codified in the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act at the end of 1990. In 1992, the International Dolphin Conservation Act denied access to U.S. markets for dolphin-deadly tuna.

In 1993, a lawsuit by Earth Island Institute succeeded in embargoing all tuna products of dolphin-killing nations.

These victories collectively changed the world market for canned tuna. As the USA and major European markets demanded truly “dolphin safe” product, many vessels left the ETP to fish in the Western Pacific and elsewhere using dolphin-safe methods. The annual kill of dolphins and bycatch species plummeted, and “dolphin deadly” tuna became nearly unsellable. The kids of America had won a landmark consumer victory, and laws passed were among the most successful environmental laws in history. U.S. tuna firms continued to prosper, tuna remained cheap and available, and the one-sided war on dolphins appeared to be almost over.

However, all of this progress had been made by leveraging off the fact that the USA and Western Europe are the world’s high-paying tuna markets, and their consumers were revolted by the needless killing of dolphins. This made it possible to control the kill by directly affecting the firms which sold tuna to the public. The public demanded a dolphin-safe product, and this changed the market and the fishery.

However, there are those who believe that national laws and high product standards are a barrier to free trade. These people are currently very powerful, and include – unfortunately – people high in the U.S. administration. They also include those who value business profits over the environment, those who wish to curry favor with the U.S. administration, the World Trade Organization, and those in other nations who opposed unilateral U.S. laws. As it turns out, this remains a formidable alliance against the dolphins.

In 1991 and again in 1994 the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which preceded the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared the U.S. dolphin-safe standards to be an unfair trade barrier, a violation of the GATT treaty, and the U.S. was told to get rid of its laws restricting the flow of dolphin-deadly tuna. Out of this arbitrary ruling by a “trade panel”, with no scientific or biological consideration, came a “deal” between the U.S. and Mexico. It would make dolphin killing legal again, but the new law would be “spun” to the public as a “dolphin saving” measure.

Beginning in 1996, a bizarre amalgamation of interests began to push legislation to negate U.S. dolphin-safe law and standards. This included the anti-environment right-wing, the “wise use” environmental exploitation lobby, the “free trade” democrats, and the U.S. President and Vice-President, who made personal guarantees to Mexico that they’d get rid of the dolphin-safe laws. It also included mysterious figures from south of the border who purportedly supplied large amounts of money to hire the top public-relations firms. Most gallingly, it included five large U.S. conservation organizations which were used by the U.S. administration to provide “green cover” for the politically expedient bailout of dolphin-killing.

This legislation – as written – was nothing less than a chainsaw massacre of all preceding U.S. dolphin victories:

It immediately opened the U.S. market to dolphin-deadly tuna.

It gave oversight of international dolphin kills to a toothless treaty organization, the inter-american tropical tuna commission (IATTC). Funded 90% by the U.S. taxpayer, it is nevertheless immune from “freedom of information” requests and can deny U.S. citizens access to data. In its over 20-year history, no IATTC-recommended fines have ever been charged against captains or countries violating its rules.

Incredibly, it re-defined the term “dolphin-safe” to include dolphin kills! Worse, it permanently establishes “dolphin sets” as the “best’ way to catch tuna. It includes dolphin kill quotas, and has NO mechanism for reducing these kills or the bycatch of other species like turtles and sharks.

It established a completely unworkable “monitoring and observation” scheme which allows nations to employ their own observers, and validate their “kill counts” with the signature of the port official where the tuna has landed. It also allows “mixed trip” catches, where some of the tuna on a boat is “safe” and some is “deadly”… despite the fact that the mixing of such tuna can’t be controlled. Moreover, Mexico – largest dolphin killer – inserted language in the agreement which keeps its citizens from being penalized even if they get caught violating the kill quotas!

The legislation even attempted to make it illegal to put true statements about dolphins on tuna cans! (This provision was removed in the eleventh hour by the organization Earthtrust working with Senator Inouye’s office. In addition, Senator Barbara Boxer – senate champion of the dolphins – managed to secure an 18-month delay in the adoption of the new “bogus” dolphin-safe definition to allow for studies to be done.)

This “dolphin death bill” failed to pass in early 1997 due to the combined effort of 85 conservation and public-policy organizations, including this one. However, in late 1997, after a heavily-advertised campaign of flat-out lies, it passed after Al Gore led an arm-twisting campaign to fragment Barbara Boxer’s support in the Senate – not his finest environmental moment.

The dolphins lost, big time; and the dolphin killers won.

In a classic example of “spin”, this was hailed by the administration and its allies as a “dolphin protection” victory. This, despite logic, and the fact that almost every scientist and conservation organization which have actively worked on the issue opposed it.

Stopping this “dolphin death bill” was the last request Jacques Cousteau made to the U.S. Congress before his own death. (For the record, Greenpeace USA supported the “dolphin death bills” while Greenpeace Foundation agreed with Cousteau in opposing them.)

We are still stuck in a world where there are MANY definitions of “dolphin safe”: The “true” definition, as endorsed by this organization and a coalition of others led by Earth Island Institute; the IATTC definition (which perpetuates dolphin kills); the U.S. legislated definition (which perpetuates dolphin kills); and a number of private and governmental definitions around the world.

In the years prior to 1959, the fishermen of the Eastern Tropical Pacific were the allies of the dolphins. Using a technique called “baitboating”, they exploited the fact that large yellowfin tuna swim below dolphin herds in order to compete with the dolphins for food. These fishermen would sight a group of dolphins, approach it, and begin unloading small live “bait fish” into the water. The dolphins would get a free snack, but the big benefit for both fishermen and dolphins was that the tuna would rise from the depths and go into a “feeding frenzy”, biting the unbaited hooks of the fishermen. The dolphins’ sonar allowed them to eat only the fish and not the hooks, and the fishermen benefited the dolphins by removing the huge fast competitors from underneath them. It was a mutually beneficial symbiosis for dolphins and fishermen.

Remember the fable about the goose and the golden egg?

In the late 1950’s, some U.S. tuna fishers decided this method of catching tuna was too slow, so they decided to invent a way to catch ALL the tuna that might be under the dolphins. They succeeded.

In the new method, once the dolphin herd was sighted, the response was very different.

The dolphins would be bombed with deafening explosives from a helicopter while multiple speedboats were deployed to chase the dolphins to exhaustion. Once they were exhausted, the speedboats would keep them in a tight group by zooming around them and throwing explosives.

These deafened and exhausted dolphins, unwilling to leave their young, would then be encircled by an enormous net called a “purse seine” which was deep enough – some 600 feet – to catch any tuna which might be swimming below.

Then they would pull the nets in. Sometimes they caught a lot of tuna.

Always, they killed dolphins. Often thousands in each set of the net.

And it’s still going on today. The fishermen try to dump the dolphins from the nets now, but it doesn’t always work; the technique is INHERENTLY lethal to dolphins. Yet after more than 7 million documented dolphin deaths, the U.S. government has defined this as the “best” method for catching tuna, and boats using it will be able to call their tuna “dolphin safe” under federal law. Whether they get away with it is up to people like you.

Greenpeace Foundation believes that not only the existing legislative travesty, but the technology of purse seining “on dolphins” itself, is unacceptable. Like driftnets, bleach-bagging, and dynamite fishing, it has no place in any acceptable fishery, because it destroys the resource as it exploits it.

Moreover, recent scientific research (Marten and Psarakos et al, and others) has shown dolphins of all species tested to be self-aware individuals in the same sense that human beings are. Thus, the tuna industry’s dolphin kill is already the largest mass killing of self-aware beings since that committed on Soviet citizens by Josef Stalin.

Greenpeace Foundation calls for a global ban on setting purse-seine nets around dolphins, and urges U.S. consumers to reject the “dolphin safe” fraud promulgated by U.S. law with its “dead safe” standard.

We envision a return to baitboat fishing, done in a modernized way with algae-eating bait fish aquacultured in sea water. This has the advantages of zero dolphin kills, more employment and empowerment of Central American citizens, shorter trips to allow the fish to be sold in the much higher-priced “fresh frozen ahi” market, and elimination of “bycatch” of turtles and other species. This can be done, but ONLY if the current international dirty-dealing is rejected by those who buy tuna.

U.S. tuna firms have publicly stated that for now they will NOT adopt the altered U.S. dolphin-safe standard and will stay with a true dolphin-safe definition, and this balance is being maintained by EII and other pro-dolphin groups. However, It is still legal under U.S. law for any firm to bring dolphin-deadly tuna in, and as declining energy and resources begin to bite the U.S. and global economies, there will be renewed pressure to keep products cheap and relax environmental rules. The massacred dolphins of the ETP could largely vanish from the seas – they are NOT safe from the tuna industry.