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Keep the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label honest!

As this article goes to press, environmentalists are waiting for a decision by US Commerce Secretary William Daley on whether he will severely weaken the "dolphin safe" tuna label. A decision is expected in mid- to late April. There is still time to for you to act!

If the Secretary decides (against common sense and the best available scientific evidence) that there are no adverse impacts from the fishing practice of chasing and netting dolphins to catch the tuna that swim beneath, then the standards for "dolphin-safe" tuna will be lowered, allowing dolphins to be chased, netted, injured, and even killed, as long as the observer on board does not see any dolphin die or be "seriously injured."

Trade politics and high-priced lobbyists for the governments of tuna-fishing nations should not be allowed to sway the Secretary's decision. US consumers must be able to have faith that tuna labeled "dolphin safe" causes no harm to dolphins.

Research by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission independently show that dolphin populations, some reduced below 30 percent of their original size by decades of tuna fishing with nets, are not recovering at all, and some populations may be in decline. Observed deaths of dolphins in the nets are lower than at any time in the last 40 years -- less than 5,000 dolphins each year (compared to more than 100,000 a year before the "dolphin safe" campaign was instituted by Earth Island Institute in 1988). Yet the dolphin populations are not growing as they should be.

Meanwhile, the three largest American tuna companies -- StarKist, BumbleBee, and Chicken of the Sea -- have formally announced to the Commerce Secretary that they "intend to retain their non-encirclement policy [of dolphins] regardless of the findings that you make in March of this year." (Letter from US Tuna Foundation to Commerce Secretary Daley).

The scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins is causing harm to dolphin populations, suppressing their recovery. American tuna processors, which control 90 percent of the US tuna market, will not buy or sell tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins. US consumers have repeatedly indicated that they will not buy tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins -- the Commerce Secretary's office is getting tens of thousands of postcards and letters from the public on behalf of dolphins.

It is up to the Commerce Secretary now to make a proper decision based on science. Or will he cave in to political pressures from tuna millionaires and their lobbyists, in the specious name of "free trade," and allow tuna stained with the blood of dolphins on US supermarket shelves?

RELATED ARTICLE: Keiko update

Keiko continues to thrive in Iceland. He is catching and eating fish, and spending most of his time underwater exploring the extensive marine life in his environment. He has had additional visitors including a harbor seat which actually entered his pen. As the awareness in Iceland increases for whalewatching and eco-tourism, the government has once again denied a permit application for minke whaling.

-- Mark Berman

What You Can Do: Write a letter to Secretary of Commerce William Daley, and urge him to keep the current strong federal standards for the "dolphin safe" tuna label in place. Do not let him foot you by claiming that standards that allow the chasing, netting, injuring and killing of dolphins can be sufficient for "dolphin safe." Keep the label honest; keep nets off dolphins! Ask that your letter be added to the official record. Send to: Secretary of Commerce William Daley, 14th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington DC 20230. You can also write a letter to the heads of the three major tuna companies, thanking them for maintaining their current strong standards for "dolphin safe" tuna (no encirclement of dolphins with nets during the entire fishing trip): Mr. Dennis Mussell, President, (Chicken of the Sea International), Van Camp Seafood Co., Inc., 4510 Executive Drive, Suite 300, San Diego, CA 92121; (619) 597-4282 (fax); Mr. Peter Bowen, President and CEO, StarKist Tuna, StarKist-Foods, Inc., One Riverfront Place, Newport, KY 41071; (606) 655-5888 (fax); Mr. Mark Koob, President, BumbleBee Seafoods, Inc., 3990 Rufin Road, San Diego, CA 92123; (619) 715-4355 (fax).

Mark J. Palmer is Director of Wildlife Alive, and a Program Associate with the International Marine Mammal Project.
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Title Annotation:United States Department of Commerce
Author:Palmer, Mark J.
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 1999
Words:717
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