To effectively manage international fisheries, such as the tuna fisheries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Ocean, which exists not only in the coastal zones of many nations but also in international waters, and with the participation of distant water fishing nation (DWFN) fleets, it is necessary to have the cooperation of all participating states. This, in turn, requires multilateral agreements that provide for ongoing data collection, scientific research on the effects on the ecosystem of the fisheries, and an agreed-upon mechanism to establish and enforce fishing capacity limits, rules and procedures. For a variety of reasons, the ETP has evolved into one of the most closely monitored, highly regulated and most sustainable fisheries in the world. Below is a brief timeline of the various multilateral agreements that make up the foundation of today’s successful regulatory resource management regime in the ETP.
1949 – The Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission created the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the ETP.
1972 – The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was created. Soon after, the U.S. National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS) began a mandatory on-board observer program to gather information on dolphin mortalities in tuna fisheries in the ETP, which led to new regulations implemented in the United States. None the less, incidental catch of dolphins began to be an issue in other countries in the Eastern Pacific.
1992 – To better respond to the high levels of incidental dolphin mortalities in tuna fisheries in the ETP, the United States, Mexico and various Latin American countries signed the La Jolla Agreement and the International Dolphin Conservation Program (IDCP), which established annual dolphin mortality to reduce bycatch of dolphins in commercial ETP tune purse seine fisheries.
1995 – The Governments of Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Spain and the United States, with the support of five environmental organizations (Greenpeace, WWF,National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and Ocean Conservancy) signed the Declaration of Panama, which set annual limits, promoted research on alternative means of capturing large yellow fin tunas not in association with dolphins and sought to ensure the long-term sustainability of tuna stocks and marine resources in the ETP.
1997 – Congress implements its obligations under the Declaration of Panama by enacting the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA). The law and the subsequent Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP) were hailed as a landmark in international fisheries management, including by President Bill Clinton who signed it into law.
2002 – After the Declaration of Panama, the U.S. was called on to change its definition of “dolphin-safe” tuna to include tuna caught by setting nets on dolphins as long as none were killed or seriously injured. Before doing so, a series of studies were undertaken to determine if the process of chasing and encircling dolphins was having a significant adverse impact on depleted dolphin populations. The NMFS determined that the technique did NOT significantly impact dolphin populations.
2003 – The Convention for the Strengthening of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (commonly referred to as the “Antigua Convention”) was adopted by the members of the IATTC. The Antigua Convention represents a substantial revision of the constitution of the IATTC and reflects developments in modern international fisheries management.
2004 – As a result of a lawsuit filed by economically self-interested special interest groups, Federal Judge Thelton Henderson rules that the original definition of “dolphin-safe” (no dolphins chased, encircled or killed) still applies to all canned tuna sold in the U.S. Tuna caught by setting on dolphins may also be sold, but not labeled “dolphin-safe” (even if no dolphins were killed or seriously injured).
2008 – Mexico takes the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and requests a dispute panel in 2009, arguing that the conditions for use of a “dolphin-safe” label are inconsistent with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as well as the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
On September 15, 2011 the WTO dispute panel released its ruling, finding the U.S. measures more trade restrictive than necessary, and thus in violation of WTO rules. On January 20, 2012 the U.S. Government announced its filing of an appeal, as did the Government of Mexico 5 days later. On May 16, 2012 the WTO appellate panel found that U.S. “dolphin-safe” labeling rules unfairly discriminate against Mexico.