About Earth Island Institute's
Dolphin Safe Tuna Program

January 2007

Question: What is Earth Island Institute?

Answer: Earth Island Institute is a nonprofit, non-governmental conservation organization based in the U.S. Earth Island Institute develops and supports innovative projects that counteract threats to the biological and cultural diversity that sustains the environment. Through education and activism, these projects promote the conservation, preservation, and restoration of the Earth. Earth Island Institute was founded in 1982 by David Brower to foster the work of creative individuals and provide organizational support for their work on critical ecological issues. Currently, it sponsors nearly forty projects focused on a broad range of ecologically linked issues around the world, supported by the core organization, Earth Island Network Services, based in San Francisco, CA, USA.

One of the original projects sponsored by Earth Island Institute is the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), dedicated to making the oceans safe for whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters, and all marine mammals, as well as the marine ecosystems on which they depend. IMMP is leading the global effort to stop the slaughter of dolphins, to end commercial whaling, to end the use of drift nets and other destructive fishing practices, and to protect key whale and dolphin habitats. IMMP led the successful return of the orca whale Keiko (star of the hit film "Free Willy") to his native habitat in Iceland.

In 1986, IMMP developed a campaign, including a consumer boycott of tuna, to press 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 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 in order to catch the tuna which swim beneath. This standard of "non-encirclement" of dolphins became the U.S. legal standard for the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label, due to legislation in the U.S. Congress and supported by IMMP and the tuna industry.

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 transshipment sites, to ensure that tuna supplies are indeed "Dolphin Safe." It is one of the largest private food monitoring systems in the world. IMMP works with tuna companies - import associations, fishing fleets, canners, and brokers - to establish "Dolphin Safe" policies for each company. 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.

Question: What is the problem concerning dolphins and tuna fishing?

Answer: Many methods of fishing for tuna have caused large numbers of dolphins to be drowned or injured in nets. Entangling drift gill nets, for example, have killed large numbers of dolphins as well as other marine mammals and birds. Large drift gill nets are banned by the United Nations, and IMMP's "Dolphin Safe" agreements with companies prohibits the use of drift gill nets to catch tuna.

Furthermore, in 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 (large yellowfin tuna follow and school beneath the dolphins and are easily caught by this method). More than 7 million dolphins have been killed by this fishing method over the past five decades, the largest marine mammal kill in history. However, 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 2,000 dolphins annually today. Sadly, several countries, including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and El Salvador, continue to support chasing and netting dolphins in the ETP, so Earth Island Institute must work to prevent such tuna from entering markets in order to further reduce the deaths of dolphins by making it no longer profitable.

Other non-target species, such as sea turtles, sharks, and billfish, can be caught in purse seine nets, so IMMP's "Dolphin Safe" policies also addresses bycatch to reduce the harm to the oceans' ecosystems.

Question: What is the Earth Island Institute IMMP "Dolphin Safe" Policy?

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

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

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 and to release alive, to the maximum extent feasible, any non-target species caught in purse seine nets.

Question: What is the difference between the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" Policy and other definitions, such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) definition?

Answer: Earth Island Institute does not recognize any other definition for "Dolphin Safe" tuna and urges companies to reject tuna that is not verified by Earth Island Institute as meeting "Dolphin Safe" policy standards.

Several countries, including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and El Salvador, continue to chase and net dolphins in order to catch the tuna which swim beneath in the ETP. They have lobbied the IATTC and a few other groups to weaken the "Dolphin Safe" standards. Instead of banning the chasing and netting of dolphins, under their weakened standards the chasing and netting of dolphins is allowed -- as long as an on-board observer does not see any dolphins killed or "seriously injured" outright by the nets, the tuna is considered "Dolphin Safe" under this misleading scheme.

Earth Island Institute and a coalition of more than fifty environmental and animal welfare organizations object to this weakened standard. It does not match U.S. legal standards, which prohibit use of the "Dolphin Safe" label for tuna if dolphins were chased and netted during catch operations. Recently, scientists from the U.S. government have determined that dolphin populations in the ETP are not recovering as expected, likely due to unreported deaths and injuries caused by chasing and netting of dolphins. Even if no dolphins are actually observed killed in nets, for example, females are often separated from their dependent young, and disoriented or injured dolphins released from nets become prey to sharks. The chase by helicopters and speed boats, capture in purse seine nets, and release of dolphins is a traumatic, hours-long process, and some schools of dolphins are chased and caught as often as three times in a single day. Tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins can never honestly be considered "Dolphin Safe".

Question: Since dolphin deaths have apparently declined so much, why do we still need the Dolphin Safe label?

Answer: Sadly, many companies in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and El Salvador continue to chase, net and kill dolphins in order to catch tuna. They are eagerly seeking markets around the world where they can sell their canned tuna, often falsely labeled as “Dolphin Safe.”

As noted above in an earlier question, despite the fact that reported dolphin deaths have significantly declined, dolphin populations have not shown signs of recovering in the ETP. Indeed, some dolphin populations may still be declining. This indicates that dolphins are still being killed or their recovery is being impaired by the tuna fishery.

The Dolphin Safe label is needed more than ever as Earth Island campaigns against companies that continue to slaughter dolphins.

Question: What about some other environmental groups that claim that the international standards for “Dolphin Safe” and the Earth Island monitoring program are not helping dolphins or the marine ecosystem?

Answer: Only one or two organizations continue to make this false claim against Earth Island. These organizations are working closely with the Mexican government and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). They have made a political decision to ignore dolphin deaths in tuna nets, or they have been swayed by false claims from Mexico and the IATTC that dolphin deaths are not harmful to dolphin populations.

Unfortunately, these organizations ignore the prevailing scientific and environmental evidence that supports Earth Island’s “no encirclement” definition of Dolphin Safe.

Unless tuna has been verified by Earth Island as meeting the international Dolphin Safe standards, you can expect that such tuna was caught by methods that harm dolphins. That is the goal, after all, of Mexico and the IATTC -- to falsely label their tuna as “Dolphin Safe” in order to fool unsuspecting importers, retailers, and consumers.

Question: What is the Earth Island Institute International Monitoring Program?

Answer: In order to ensure companies and tuna consumers that tuna is caught in a "Dolphin Safe" manner, Earth Island Institute established an International Monitoring Program in 1990 to monitor catches and shipments around the world. Earth Island Institute now maintains international monitoring staff around the world, including offices in Hawaii (Program Director's office), Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Mauritius, and the Philippines. These monitors regularly travel to inspect many other countries with important tuna canneries and fleets. As part of the "Dolphin Safe" agreement with companies, Earth Island's international monitors have access to fishing vessels, canneries, ports, storage facilities, and transport vessels to inspect tuna catches. Earth Island Institute monitors also works with fish processors and individual boat owners to establish "Dolphin Safe" fisheries and policies. Furthermore, working with import associations around the world, Earth Island Institute has succeeded in closing more than 90% of the world's canned tuna markets to dolphin-deadly tuna. More than thirty countries and more than 300 companies have made progress in adopting dolphin-safe fishing policies with the support and help of Earth Island Institute.

Question: What steps should a company take to join the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" Program and become an Earth Island-approved "Dolphin Safe" company?

Answer: First, contact Earth Island Institute for a copy of the "Dolphin Safe" policy template(s):

Earth Island Institute
Attn: Mark Berman
300 Broadway, Suite 28,
San Francisco, CA, USA, 94133
Telephone: (415) 788-3666
Fax: (415) 788-7324

You will be sent a copy of the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" policy. If you agree to the terms of the policy, you should prepare a copy on your company letterhead, signed by the President or CEO of your company, date it, and send it back to Earth Island Institute.

Earth Island Institute will arrange for an international monitor to come to your company to inspect your operation, including all procurement and production documents, vessels, ports, storage, processing and canning facilities, as per the policy provisions. There may be additional issues to work out to ensure that the full "Dolphin Safe" policy will be adhered to. You will be notified by Earth Island Institute of our decision to list your company as "Provisionally Approved" as part of the "Dolphin Safe" Program. Your company's name will be added to EII's list of accepted international "Dolphin Safe" tuna companies. The "provisional" nature of your company's status will be upgraded after 6 months of monitoring by Earth Island Institute. This is to ensure that the tuna your company catches, processes and/or sells is certified as being "Dolphin Safe" in accordance with EII international standards and that your company cooperates with the EII-approved company requirements as listed in the EII "Dolphin Safe" Policy.

Certification of a new "Dolphin Safe" tuna company can take several months, so you should plan ahead accordingly.

If you have any questions about this process or our program, please contact us in San Francisco.

Question: How do I know if the tuna my company buys meets the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" standards?

Answer: This is an important question: Companies cannot rely on tuna being truly "Dolphin Safe", even if the tuna is labeled as such by the tuna supplier, the fishing fleet or by the IATTC or some other agency.

Earth Island Institute maintains a list of approved "Dolphin Safe" companies around the world that adhere to Earth Island Institute's "Dolphin Safe" standards. These regularly-updated lists are available to participating "Dolphin Safe" companies. These lists are posted on the Internet at

If you are in doubt about a supplier, broker, or shipment, or if the supplier does not appear on Earth Island Institute's list of approved "Dolphin Safe" companies, then you should contact Earth Island representatives right away. We will investigate and inform you of whether the tuna shipment or supplier meets the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" standards.

We also encourage participating companies to ensure, with every tuna transaction, that, if the tuna proves to have been caught in a manner that does not meet the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" standards, then the shipment can be returned to the original source with no liability on the part of your company. Take steps to protect your company against fraudulently labeled tuna, just as you would against tuna that does not meet the health or quality standards/requirements of your company or market.

Question: How is Earth Island Institute funded?

Answer: Earth Island Institute is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization incorporated in the United States. We receive the bulk of our funding from donations by individuals and philanthropic foundations. Earth Island Institute does not require funding or donations from a company as a requirement to receive EII "Dolphin Safe" approval. We do encourage tuna companies to provide reimbursement funding to help maintain International Monitoring Program expenses, but our core programs receive no funding from the tuna industry, in order to maintain the independence of Earth Island Institute's International Monitoring Program and other campaigns to protect marine mammals.

Earth Island Institute has recently participated in the formation of an organization in the United Kingdom, the Dolphin Safe Monitoring Organization (DSMO). The purpose of the DSMO is to:

  1. Establish a uniform "Dolphin Safe" label, with Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" standards, to avoid consumer confusion, and
  2. To provide a method to support nonprofit monitoring organizations, including Earth Island Institute, to maintain both the funding and the independence of tuna monitoring efforts.

The DSMO has been set up to provide use of the universal "Dolphin Safe" logo to tuna companies in return for annual contributions.

Question: Who supports Earth Island Institute's International Dolphin Safe Monitoring Program?

Answer: Earth Island Institute's efforts to prevent the chasing and netting of dolphins by tuna fishing fleets has been endorsed by the largest tuna companies in the U.S., by the tuna import and canning associations in Europe, and by the tuna packers associations in Thailand and the Philippines. Canadian and Australian tuna import companies also support the program. Earth Island Institute currently has "Dolphin Safe" tuna agreements with more than 300 companies worldwide.

More than 80 non-governmental environmental, animal welfare, and trade organizations support the Earth Island Institute efforts, including Greenpeace, the Humane Society of the U.S., Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Friends of the Earth, Animal Welfare Institute, and Ralph Nader's Citizen Trade Campaign.

Earth Island Institute’s International Monitoring Program has received awards from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

Question: Why should my company participate in the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" Program?

Answer: By joining the Earth Island Institute "Dolphin Safe" Program, your company will be participating in the most successful and most popular private international monitoring effort in history. You will be ensuring to your vendors and to tuna consumers that your company is environmentally responsible and cares deeply about protecting dolphins and other marine life while delivering a quality product.

Tuna caught, processed, brokered, imported and/or transported by your company will be accepted in more than 90% of the world's canned tuna markets, including the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. These markets will not accept tuna that is caught by chasing and netting of dolphins. Importers, vendors and consumers rely upon Earth Island Institute to provide them with certification that tuna is truly "Dolphin Safe" and was caught by methods that would never harm dolphins.

Earth Island Institute not only provides your company with the "Dolphin Safe" certification you need to sell tuna, we also help you find sources and markets for "Dolphin Safe" tuna and work closely with your company to resolve any difficulties.

Earth Island Institute is pleased that we provide one of the most important environmental services to the world - certification of "Dolphin Safe" tuna. It is in our interest and the interest of dolphins and other marine life to see that the seas are harvested in a manner that does not degrade marine ecosystems. You should be proud of your company's efforts to support this successful "Dolphin Safe" Program.

Question: What progress has been made by Earth Island Institute's "Dolphin Safe" International Monitoring Program?

Answer: More than 90% of the world's canned tuna suppliers today are pledged to buy and sell only "Dolphin Safe" tuna as certified by Earth Island Institute's International Monitoring Program. Several key tuna fleets have switched completely to fishing only in a EII-approved "Dolphin Safe" manner.

Reported dolphin deaths have been decreased by an unprecedented 98% in the ETP since the 1990 adoption of the EII "Dolphin Safe" Program by tuna companies worldwide.

Much more needs to be done. Too many dolphins are still dying in the ETP tuna fishery, and too many tuna suppliers misrepresent their tuna as "dolphin safe." Several countries are trying to introduce bogus "Dolphin Safe" labels that are meaningless and will only add to consumer confusion and a lack of public trust in the overall industry.

Earth Island Institute welcomes your active participation in our efforts to protect dolphins, the marine environment, and to promote "Dolphin Safe" tuna to consumers worldwide.

For Further Information:

Please contact Mark Berman
Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28,
San Francisco, CA, USA, 94133
Telephone: (415) 788-3666
Fax: (415) 788-7324

Websites: (for consumers) (for tuna industry)