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The Tuna Boycott Which Led To The “Dolphin Safe” Tuna Label

During the late 1950's, in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), fishing fleets, using purse seine nets, began to catch tuna by spotting, herding and encircling dolphins on the surface. This was done because large yellowfin tuna follow and school beneath the dolphins, and are therefore easily caught using this method

An estimated 7 million dolphins have been killed by this fishing method over the past four decades, the largest marine mammal kill in history.

In 1986,the International Marine Mammal Project, one of the original projects sponsored by Earth Island Institute, organised a campaign, including a consumer boycott of tuna, in order to urge U.S. tuna companies to end the practice of intentionally chasing and netting dolphins with purse seine nets, and to adopt "Dolphin Safe" fishing practices to prevent the drowning of dolphins in tuna nets.

In 1988, biologist Samuel LaBudde signed aboard a Panamanian-flagged tuna fishing vessel in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Using a video camera, LaBudde recorded the horrifying images of hundreds of dolphins dying in tuna nets. The video shocked the world, and people around the world joined in the tuna boycott.

In 1990, the three largest tuna companies in the world - StarKist, Bumblebee, and Chicken of the Sea - agreed to stop purchasing, processing, and selling tuna caught by intentional chasing and netting of dolphins.

Due to legislation in the U.S. Congress, supported by IMMP and the tuna industry, this standard of "non-encirclement" of dolphins became the U.S. legal standard for the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label.

Earth Island Institute's IMMP has established a tuna monitoring program with staff monitors around the world who observe operations at tuna canneries, offloading ports, and cold storage facilities, as well as on board fishing vessels and trans-shipment sites, to ensure that tuna supplies are indeed "Dolphin Safe."

It is the largest private food monitoring system in the world. IMMP works with tuna companies - import associations, fishing fleets, canners, and brokers - to establish "Dolphin Safe" policies for each company.

In order for tuna to be considered "Dolphin Safe", it must meet the following standards:

1. No intentional chasing, netting or encirclement of dolphins during an entire tuna fishing trip;

2. No use of drift gill nets to catch tuna;

3. No accidental killing or serious injury to any dolphins during net sets;

4. No mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells (for accidental kill of dolphins), or in processing or storage facilities; and

5. Each trip in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by vessels 400 gross tons and above must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with points (1) through (4) above.

By agreement between Earth Island Institute and the participants in "Dolphin Safe" fishing operations:

All fishing and carrier vessels; all processing, storage, and trans-shipment facilities; and all procurement records related to the purchase, processing, storage, transport, and sale of tuna must be made available for independent EII-approved monitoring.

Companies listed as "Dolphin Safe" must maintain "Dolphin Safe" policies approved by Earth Island Institute and apply them to all international aspects of their operations and related subsidiaries. Furthermore, companies must not participate in whaling; whale/dolphin/sea turtle meat purchasing, processing, or sales; dolphin "drive" fisheries; or shark finning.

Earth Island Institute strongly encourages tuna fishermen and tuna companies to work to reduce the catching of juvenile tuna, and the bycatch of non-target species such as sea turtles, sharks, and billfish, and to release alive, “to the maximum extent feasible”, any non-target species caught in purse seine nets, in order to to reduce the harm to the oceans' ecosystems.

Through these agreements, IMMP has virtually eliminated dolphin-deadly tuna from 90% of the world's canned tuna markets, including Europe, Canada, Australia, and, of course, the U.S., which is still the largest canned tuna market on Earth.

Since the adoption of IMMP's "Dolphin Safe" standards, reported dolphin deaths in the ETP have dropped from 80-100,000 annually in the late 1980's, to under 3,000 dolphins annually today.

Sadly, several countries, including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Vanautu, continue to support chasing and netting dolphins in the ETP, so Earth Island Institute is working to prevent tuna, which is caught using these methods, from entering markets in order to further reduce the deaths of dolphins by making it no longer profitable.