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Bush administration conspired with Mexico.

The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) recently released a series of memos that show a pattern of deliberate abuse of science by the Bush administration at the expense of protection for dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery. On December 31, 2002, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans made a legal claim that there were "no significant adverse impacts" on dolphins that are deliberately chased and netted by fishermen to catch the tuna that swim beneath them. This claim was meant to give Mexico and other tuna-fishing nations the ability to falsely label tuna caught in this way as "Dolphin Safe" and sell it in the US.

The Bush administration supports a weak international agreement, the International Dolphin Conservation Program (IDCP), which allows the chasing and netting of dolphins in order to catch tuna, instead of implementing measures that truly protect dolphins. The IDCP is administered by the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission, made up of representatives of tuna fishing nations and their tuna industry officials.

IMMP sued in federal court (Earth Island Institute v. Secretary of Commerce Evans), and won a preliminary injunction that is still in place. IMMP's lawsuit contends that the Bush administration weakened the meaning of the Dolphin Safe tuna label on the basis of trade politics rather than science.

Further, IMMP took steps to obtain secret memos and other documents in the Commerce Secretary's decision record. These memos prove the US government privately conceded that dolphin populations were not recovering from depleted status, likely due to the tuna fishery. The documents also show that Mexico and other tuna fishing nations put intense political pressure on the Commerce Department to ignore its own scientific conclusions.

Over 300 documents were withheld from the court record. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco ruled October 10 that the public interest in the case warranted releasing some of the withheld documents.

"Congress would not allow weakening the Dolphin Safe tuna label unless the science showed no impact on dolphins," declared David Phillips, executive director of EII. "The Bush administration has blatantly and illegally ignored its own scientists, caving in to the demand of Mexico that tuna be falsely labeled "Dolphin Safe," despite killing tens of thousands of dolphins annually."

The IMMP lawsuit and request for summary judgment will be heard before Judge Thelton Henderson on April 26, 2004. Plaintiffs in this case include IMMP/Earth Island Institute, Samuel LaBudde, Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, and Oceanic Society.

Memos obtained by IMMP include these statements that contradict the Secretary's finding on December 31, 2002, of "no significant adverse impacts" of the tuna fishery on dolphins, and show the Bush administration's intent to strike down dolphin protections:

The Government of the United States strongly regrets that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling striking down the Secretary of Commerce's finding concerning the effects of purse seine fishing on depleted dolphin populations ... The United States can understand the strong disappointment of the government of Mexico and the Mexican industry ... We are committed to implementing the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP), consistent with US law and the intention of the parties to the AIDCP to open markets to tuna caught in accordance with the agreement ... The United States believes that it has fulfilled its commitments under the AIDCP and the Declaration of Panama; however, because of the court decision the definition of 'dolphin-safe' cannot be changed at this moment.

--Secretary of State Colin Powell to US Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, in a cable asking Davidow to convey the message to the Government of Mexico, August 15, 2001.

A determination of 'no significant adverse impact' is not supported by the science.

--Dept. of Commerce, General Talking Points, Outline with Talking Points for Tuna/Dolphin Briefing, December 11, 2002.

We've all seen the science. We know that dolphins aren't recovering Now, let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

--Talking Points: Briefing for the Secretary (of Commerce) on the Dolphin Safe Label Final Finding, December 16, 2002.
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Title Annotation:International Marine Mammal Project
Author:Palmer, Mark J.
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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