Firstly what is dolphin safe fishing? Well back in 1990 an organisation called Earth Island Institute (a non-profit, non-governmental conservation organization based in the U.S) and several large tuna companies in the U.S agreed to define dolphin safe tuna as ‘tuna caught without setting nets on or near dolphins.’ This standard was incorporated into the Marine Mammal Protection Act later in 1990 and in 1997 was expanded by the United States Congress with the statement that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in a net set to qualify as tuna for a Dolphin Safe label.
These standards were implemented in response to decades of tuna fishermen intentionally chasing dolphins and catching the tuna swimming underneath. This horrific practice has largely now being wiped out with approximately 90% of the world’s tuna companies committed to dolphin safe practices and dolphin deaths in tuna nets declining by 99%.
The problem is not over though with many South American tuna fleets chasing, netting and drowning thousands of dolphins annually. Countries including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and El Salvador are petitioning authorities to change the dolphin safe tuna laws to have them weakened. Their proposed definition would allow the chasing and netting of dolphins as long as the required on board observer does not witness the event or seriously maiming of the dolphin. It is hoped this deceitful endeavour does not go ahead.
However the term ‘dolphin safe’ is controversial, in the United States it only defines dolphins within the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP), so the thousands of dolphins killed outside these waters are not reported. In 2012 the World Trade Organisation reviewed the scientific evidence and concluded that the standards implemented in 1990, whilst effectively at halting the mass slaughter of dolphins beforehand, were outdated and misleading. Many of the thousands of dolphins killed outside the ETP are still sold under ‘dolphin safe’ labels under current labelling standards, this is extremely concerning as the United States is one of the largest consumer markets in the world for tuna as well as a major exporter.
Further what is also discounted is the enormous amount of ‘by catch’ (the surrounding marine life besides the dolphins) killed and often left for dead in the ocean, by the ‘dolphin safe’ fishing technique including sharks, turtles, sea birds, billfish and countless juvenile tunas. So ironically whilst more dolphins are being saved in certain oceans, many other marine life species are being killed instead and left for dead due to their lack of economic value (as tuna can be canned, sold and made for profit).
Consumers in Australia can play a part by trying to avoid illegal fishing activities, buying fish caught within the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Region (WCPO), as purse seine caught skipjack tuna has illegal fishing rates of less than 5%. Skipjack tuna is one of the most ethical tunas to purchase. Independent observers monitor and observe illegal practices to authorities and operate throughout the WCPO. Vessel blacklists, i.e. vessels which have been reported for illegal activities are maintained by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and Greenpeace, an independent organisation supporting environmental justice.
By Simon Chitre
- • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin_safe_label