OVER GUTTED "DOLPHIN SAFE"
Earth Island Institute, nine other environmental groups, and 87-year-old environmental activist David R. Brower filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court to overturn the decision by the government to weaken the standards for the "Dolphin Safe" label on American tuna cans.
The lawsuit, being filed by Josh Floum, Esq., and Ariela Freed, Esq., of Legal Strategies Group of Emeryville, CA, contends that the U.S. Commerce Secretary's decision, which allows a new weaker definition of "dolphin safe" by finding that the chasing and netting of dolphins is not causing significant adverse impacts on depleted dolphin populations, is arbitrary and capricious, and intentionally ignores biological research supplied by the Commerce Department's own scientists. The lawsuit contends that the successful federal "dolphin safe" tuna program is being jeopardized by the federal government's weakening of U.S. dolphin protection laws to accommodate tuna millionaires in Mexico and other countries in the name of free trade.
Additional plaintiffs include biologist and dolphin activist Samuel LaBudde, Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, Oceanic Society, and Environmental Solutions International.
David Phillips, Director of Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project, stated: "The federal government's claim that chasing and netting of dolphins is 'safe' for dolphins is fraudulent and must be overturned." He continued: "They are promoting trade with Mexico at the expense of dolphin lives. If the Secretary's decision is left intact, we believe foreign tuna industries will deliberately target and drown as many as 20,000 dolphins each year. We cannot allow that to occur."
Before the action by the Secretary, the "dolphin safe" label could not be used for any tuna caught by chasing and netting of dolphins (e.g. "dolphin safe" meant non-encirclement of dolphins). Tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) target dolphins because tuna and dolphins form mixed schools. Since 1990 and the advent of the "dolphin safe" tuna program, dolphin deaths have decreased by 97% in the ETP.
However, on April 29th, just one week after Earth Day, U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley made his finding, contrary to all available scientific information, that chasing and netting dolphins does NOT cause significant adverse impacts. This action automatically weakens the standards by which tuna is judged to be "dolphin safe" to now allow chase, harassment, netting, injuring, and even killing of dolphins when catching tuna, so long as an on-board observer reports no dolphins killed outright or "seriously injured." Federal scientists have determined that dolphin populations in the ETP are not recovering as expected, even with the dramatically lower reported kills of recent years. Harassment of dolphins by tuna fishermen and problems arising from the consequent physiological stress (some dolphin schools are chased and netted as often as three times in one day) are likely factors which cause harm to dolphin health and reproduction. Many dolphins suffer injuries in the nets and die after release, but are not counted by the on-board observer.
Written by: Earth Island Institute's International
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