Truth in Labeling
Originally designed to protect dolphins from the dangers of specific methods of fishing, the current U.S. “dolphin-safe” labeling system ignores dolphins killed outside of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Ocean along with the occurence of other types of sea life killed in U.S. and international fisheries by fishing methods deemed “dolphin-safe.” Referred to as “bycatch,” sharks, turtles, sea birds, billfish and countless juvenile tunas are slaughtered en masse during the fishing process and thrown back dead into the sea. U.S. consumers have no way of knowing how much bycatch the tuna they’re purchasing produced.
Additionally, the arbitrary ban against specific fishing methods by the U.S., which is supported by economically interested groups like the Earth Island Institute, drives tuna fishermen into less regulated international waters, where fishing and bycatch are barely monitored by independent observers and fishing is a free-for-all. Sharks, turtles and juvenile tuna are trapped and killed there. Thousands of dolphins are too. Still, the tuna caught in these waters under those conditions returns to the U.S. market and is sold under the “dolphin-safe” label.
Under the 1990 law, certain methods of fishing were banned by the U.S. Congress because they resulted in high rates of dolphin mortality. Advances in fishing techniques, technology and training during the following two decades have led to truly sustainable fishing practices, especially compared to the ones used in 1990. However, some for-profit special interest groups continue to subvert sincere environmental concerns about protecting dolphins and the marine ecosystem. Sharks, turtles and smaller fish are just as vital to our marine ecosystem as dolphins. Yet their populations are utterly depleted by so-called "dolphin-safe" fishing methods, including fish aggregating devices (FADs).
Environmental sustainability efforts are critical and complementary to global health and economic development. Enacting smart and strict environmental trade standards for international products like tuna is the only way to ensure that employees in fisheries are blocked from unfair practices disguised as environmentalism.
Over 97% of the world’s fisheries are in developing countries, making those who run them especially vulnerable to ecological destruction and economic injustice. Manufacturers and canners in developed countries like the U.S. depend on the fish caught in those markets to supply a quality product and keep prices marketable for consumers.
With its 2012 ruling on “dolphin-safe” labeling in the U.S., the World Trade Organization (WTO) placed itself on the side of environmentalists and consumer advocates. The WTO found the standards that made tuna fishing more dolphin-friendly in 1990 have not made it either more dolphin- or eco-friendly two decades later. Consumers in the U.S. deserve access to healthier, sustainable alternatives, especially given that “dolphin-safe” does NOT in fact mean no dolphins (or other aquatic species) were harmed in the capture of the tuna bearing the label.