Following a ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the end of 2015, some tuna products in the US claiming to be dolphin-safe may turn out to be not so dolphin-friendly in the future.
In contrary to Germany, tuna products in the US can only be labelled as dolphin-safe if the tuna had not been caught using driftnets in the vicinity of dolphin schools. However, the new WTO ruling now means that tuna products from Mexico, where dolphins are indiscriminately caught alongside the tuna, can be legally labelled as "dolphin-safe".
According to the Earth Island Institute (EII), the American partner organisation of the Society for Dolphin Conservation (Gesellschaft zur Rettung der Delphine/GRD) in Germany for the International Monitoring Program (IMP) for dolphin-safe tuna, WTO's decision had been made in favour of trade, not science.
"Time and time again the WTO has shown it doesn't care about wildlife, the environment or truth in labelling,“ said David Phillips, director of EII's International Marine Mammal Project. He added that Mexico should be required to follow the same rules as other countries if it wanted to use the dolphin-safe label.
GRD biologist Ulrich Karlowski said that the WTO ruling had demonstrated once again that environmental, animal and nature conservation were secondary concerns in international trade agreements.
High mortality rates for dolphins
Schools of tuna sometimes swim under dolphins, and this is a way some fishermen, like those from Mexico, can easily locate them. After spotting the dolphins, the fishermen use speedboats to tire out the animals and drive them into seine nets. The opening at the bottom of the net is then closed, trapping both the tuna and dolphin. Before the net is brought on board the fishing boat, the dolphins are released by opening the upper portion of the net. However, not all dolphins would have a chance to escape.
This fishing method has caused the deaths of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of dolphins annually. Not only do they face entrapment in the nets, they are repeatedly chased and caught several times a day, and the calves sometimes get separated from their mothers. Even if they are released from the nets, many still die due to injury or stress-related illnesses.
More than seven million dolphins died
More than seven million dolphins have perished from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, as a result of this fishing method. To illustrate the scale of the massacre, commercial whaling, in comparison, had killed off about two million whales in the 20th century.
"It is high time for Mexico to quit this environmentally destructive fishing practice, rather than trying to force its dolphin deadly tuna onto US supermarket shelves by raising issues about trade barriers,“ said Phillips.
Since it was established in 1990 by the EII, the IMP has managed to ensure that tuna that had been labelled as dolphin-safe were not caught by chasing and netting dolphins. The GRD too implements and supports this scheme, which has since reduced the number of dolphin deaths by more than 90 percent.