IMMP Launches Honest Label Campaign

by Mark J. Palmer

Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) has launched a grassroots campaign to keep the "Dolphin Safe" label on canned tuna honest.

Last year, IMMP and a coalition of more than 85 environmental, trade and animal welfare organizations succeeded in defeating legislation, dubbed the "Dolphin Death Act," that would have immediately weakened the federal standards for labeling canned tuna "Dolphin Safe."

A compromise bill was passed that requires Secretary of Commerce William Daley to determine by March 1999 whether chasing, netting and releasing dolphins (as is currently practiced by Mexican, Colombian, and Venezuelan vessels in the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery) causes a significant adverse impact on any depleted dolphin populations.

If the Secretary decides that such practices do cause adverse impacts, the current strong federal standards for tuna labeled "Dolphin Safe" will remain in place. These tough standards (developed by Earth Island Institute) prohibit setting any nets on dolphins during the entire fishing trip. If the Secretary decides (against common sense and the best available scientific information) that there are no adverse impacts, then the standards for "Dolphin Safe" tuna will be lowered, permitting dolphins to be chased, netted, injured and even killed, as long as no onboard observer actually sees any dolphin die or be "seriously injured."

"The Secretary of Commerce's March 1999 decision is the most important element of the complex legislation," notes David Phillips, IMMP Director. "We cannot allow trade politics and high-priced lobbyists for the tuna fishing nations to sway the Secretary's decision. US consumers must have faith that canned tuna labeled 'Dolphin Safe' causes no harm to dolphins."

Dolphin populations, despite very low observed mortality, have not increased in the eight years since the implementation of dolphin-safe tuna policies. Furthermore, studies by the US National Marine Fisheries Service suggest that many dolphins caught in nets and then released subsequently die from physiological stress and injuries. These deaths would go unrecorded by onboard observers on the tuna boats.

The governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and other fishing nations which still set nets on dolphins are banking on the Clinton Administration's caving in to their lobbying pressure and allowing the sale of their dolphin-deadly tuna - falsely labeled "Dolphin Safe" - in US supermarkets.

Earth Island, in concert with the 85-member Dolphin Safe/Fair Trade Campaign coalition, have pledged to garner half a million public comments in support of dolphins for Secretary Daley between this fall and next March 1999. Every comment counts!"We will not let the Clinton Administration and foreign fishing industries sell consumers falsely-labeled tuna stained with the blood of thousands of dolphins," states Phillips. "We will fight to keep the label honest and to keep the nets off dolphins!"

Write Secretary of Commerce William Daley [15th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington DC 20230] urging him to keep the current strong federal "dolphin safe" labeling standards. Ask that your letter be added to the official record. For further information, contact IMMP ar (415) 788-3666 or


International Marine Mammal Project
300 Broadway, suite 28    San Francisco, CA  94133
or fax 415/788-7324