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What the WTO Ruling Means

by Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna
December 3, 2015

What the WTO Ruling Means "Cwr lake facade2" by E. Murray - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Two weeks ago we received the most excellent news that the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body found in favor of Mexico for the fourth and final time. We thought our readers might be interested in the nitty gritty of what this ruling means.

The WTO decision is the ultimate and conclusive legal victory for Mexico and conservation conscious tuna consumers following seven years of proceedings. It is a significant victory for the global environment, for all species of the marine ecosystem and for consumers who rely on the truth and veracity of claims of eco-labeling schemes. This decision, if and when the United States finally implements it, will contribute to safeguarding dolphins around the world, as well as other species such as turtles, sharks and billfish and, notably, tuna itself.

There is clear acknowledgement in the report and ruling of the Appellate Body that the multilateral Agreement on International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP), to which both Mexico and the United States are parties, has dramatically reduced dolphin mortality in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) since 1990 to insignificant levels. Moreover, the Appellate Body agreed that the U.S. is completely ignoring the high incidence of dolphin mortalities in other oceans supplying more than 95% of tuna to the U.S. market, which negates its claim to be seeking zero tolerance of dolphin mortality for tuna bearing the dolphin safe label.

For that reason, the Appellate Body agreed with the earlier ruling which concluded that the U.S. measures actually misleads, rather than informs, because the absolute assurance given to U.S. consumers that they were eating “dolphin safe” tuna was not confirmed by independent observers, and was likely to be inaccurate, particularly given the exceedingly high levels of dolphin mortality in fisheries supplying the U.S. market. This was the finding in the original case in 2011, it was affirmed by the Appellate Body in its 2012 ruling, it was reaffirmed by a Panel in the Article 21.5 case earlier this year, and now in this final ruling.

This decision comes at a crucial time in the worldwide effort to combat the depletion of tuna stocks and damage to other species in the world’s oceans as a result of needless bycatch and discards. For the past decade, with steadily increasing urgency, legitimate conservation groups, led by PEW Environmental Trusts and Greenpeace International, have decried the depletion of tuna stocks being caused by the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs). It is well established that fishing on FADs results in an enormous catch of juvenile tuna, as well as bycatch of other species.

In contrast, it is well established that fishing for tuna by setting on dolphins results in the catch almost exclusively of mature yellowfin tuna. The juvenile tuna are left to grow and replenish the tuna stocks. It is not necessary to choose between the health of the dolphin population and the health of the tuna stocks and other species. Fishing for tuna under the rigorous management regime of the AIDCP has proven to be the most sustainable method of fishing for dolphins, tuna and other marine species.

All the United States has accomplished during the past seven years of litigation at the WTO is to deny U.S. consumers a meaningful and credible dolphin-safe label for canned tuna products and to provide a market incentive for the use of destructive fishing practices. We are happy that the truth about dolphin-safe labels is finally out there and we are hopeful that this ruling will lead to significant change in fishing practices around the world and, importantly, in the U.S.’ deceptive “dolphin-safe” labeling policy.