English | Español

Where did Earth Island Hide 8 Million Pounds of Illegally-Caught Tuna?

by Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna
April 10, 2014

Where did Earth Island Hide 8 Million Pounds of Illegally-Caught Tuna?

Last year we reported that The Earth Island Institute's "dolphin safe" deception was exposed yet again in our blog post The Emperor Really Has No Clothes.

In that post, we told you that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had finally levied $1.5 million in fines against six tuna fishing vessels that were caught red-handed engaging in Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific. Four of the vessels were also caught and fined for setting directly on marine mammals, a clear violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). All four vessels are controlled by the South Pacific Tuna Corporation
(SOPAC), a company started by several of the world's largest tuna companies including Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee and Taiwan's FCF Fishery Co, according to Congressman Faleomavaega (Amer.Samoa) and the company's former CEO, Jose Muñoz. These are all companies that benefit heavily from the Earth Island "dolphin safe" labeling scheme, which unconditionally guarantees zero IUU fishing.

In other words, these violators are governed by the very same companies that supply 95 percent of so-called "dolphin safe" tuna in the U.S. market today.

After much effort from South Pacific Tuna Corporation and their corporate owners to appeal the judge's rulings, virtually all of the charges and fines were upheld. We just received a copy of the final 207 page "decision and order", in which the judge describes in stunning detail the numerous blatant violations by these vessels including instances of setting nets on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) during a closure period for the FAD fishery and, according to the Judge, "intentionally" setting nets on dolphins and other marine mammals in clear violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Information that led to these convictions was received from regional observers from Micronesia and the Solomon Islands who were onboard the vessels to monitor compliance with the FAD restrictions pursuant to the rules of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC); it was fortuitous that two of them observed the setting of nets on marine mammals, as the WCPFC does not prohibit such settings and it was not part of their responsibilities or training to watch for that.

Earth Island Institute, Chicken of the Sea, StarKist and Bumble Bee all claim to be 100% dolphin safe and committed to sustainable fishing. In the decision, the judge disclosed that the fishing sets that resulted in the charges and fines had resulted in the capture of 8,356,000 pounds of tuna, all of which apparently found its way to your local grocery store shelf emblazoned with the Earth Island-backed "certified" "dolphin safe" seal. Earth Island claims on its own that its certification program unconditionally guarantees zero IUU fishing, but that is exactly what SOPAC has just been found guilty of doing under the protection of their label!

How did this happen? All of these vessels were, and REMAIN, considered "dolphin-safe" by Earth Island. The system used by Earth Island was, and REMAINS, captain self-certification, an inherently flawed system that is also the official standard for the United States' certification. Under the U.S. rules on "dolphin safe", the determination whether tuna qualifies to be dolphin-safe is purportedly based on a vessel captain's certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during the set in which the tuna was caught, and that nets were not set on dolphins during the entire voyage in which the tuna was caught.  Because the captains in the SOPAC case were not actually involved in the fishing operations (it was the fishing master that controls operations), lack a clear understanding of the legal requirements, and make no effort to segregate tuna by set, they would not be able to make a credible certification.  Yet all of the tuna caught during the voyages at issue would have been sold as dolphin-safe.

We have to ask: Earth Island, where is that 8 million pounds of tuna?  Show us the tracking and verification system you claim!  The answer is clear: there isn't one.

Little has changed at the Earth Island Institute since we reported on this case last year. Despite its inexcusable failure to protect marine mammals, and contrary to their long-standing claim that their certification program guarantees zero IUU fishing and zero harm to marine mammals, EII remains silent on this case and continues to shield its collaborator in the industry. The Emperor is buck naked, folks, and it's time for more of us to start saying so.  When challenged on this point, they continued to voice support for the SOPAC violators, StarKist, BumbleBee and Chicken of the Sea.  Their lack of outrage, or a reaction of any kind, is conspicuous.

At last year's Solomon Island's Pacific Tuna Forum (which we reported on here), Mark Berman, Director of Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project, argued that "NOAA made a mistake...They should never have made these convictions public since the companies involved all denied the allegations."

The statement left the 200-plus crowd flabbergasted. "U.S. companies get convicted by the U.S. government over encircling marine mammals and Earth Island, who are dolphin activists, come to their defense," said a representative from a major international conservation organization. "He made it all too clear to everyone here whom his organization is really protecting." The appeals are over and the case is closed. What say you now, Mr. Berman?

In the wake of such clear evidence of Earth Island's deception, U.S. consumers, retailers, distributors, restaurants and conservation groups should cut all ties with Earth Island and its so-called "dolphin-safe" tuna.

We are renewing our demand that NOAA and the U.S. Congress amend the dolphin-safe standard to require independent observers aboard all vessels in areas where dolphin mortalities have been scientifically verified in the tuna fishery. This is certainly the case in the Western and Central Pacific, where the SOPAC vessels operate. As long as "dolphin-safe" really means dolphin deadly, consumers will continue to be deceived and marine ecosystems will continue to die off. We do not accept NOAA and Earth Island's apparent belief that widespread dolphin deaths are part of an acceptable status quo. You shouldn't either.