World Trade Organization (WTO) appellate panel issued a determination on Wednesday that US ‘dolphin safe’ tuna labeling laws unfairly discriminate against Mexico and its tuna products. This decision stemmed from a series of challenges within the WTO since2008 when Mexico brought the US to the Organization’s dispute panel. Mexico is seeking to access US markets despite its continuing utilization of fishing methods that involve chasing, encircling and setting nets around schools of dolphins, a practice that is prohibited by US law and which defines and underpins the ‘dolphin safe’ label.
Using dolphins to locate and capture schools of yellow fin tuna by setting nets on pods of dolphins and pulling the purse-seine nets tight endanger dolphins in the process. Dolphins are injured throughout the entire process; they are chased and encircled, can become entangled and suffocate, or get crushed in the winches, as the nets are pulled in. Mexico contends that these methods do not harm dolphins, and that the ‘dolphin safe’ label unfairly restricts trade.
Dolphins dying in tuna nets was an important impetus and factor in the development of US marine mammal protective legislation in the early 1970s, hence labeling legislation is part of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The dolphin safe label was introduced over 20 years ago and has been successful in both reducing dolphin mortality and raising awareness. The office of the United States Trade Representative has indicated this latest ruling does not necessarily mean the US has to abandon the ‘dolphin safe’ labeling program.
“It is almost unfathomable that some of our most sacred laws and regulations that are supported not only by the public, but by the industry itself, are at risk of being sacrificed at the altar of free trade,” stated Courtney Vail, WDCS Campaigns and Program Manager. “Tens of thousands of dolphins were dying annually in the tuna fishery until US laws and policies forged international consensus and encouraged the development of alternative fishing methods that protect dolphins while letting the public have its tuna, too. The dolphin safe label is recognized worldwide, and is an important incentive in international dolphin protection. These protections should not be dismantled in the name of free trade, and we encourage the US government to hold firm as the WTO challenge continues.”
In light of the decision,representatives for America’s top three canned tuna brands (Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and Starkist) reaffirmed their commitment to dolphin protection and indicated they will not utilize tuna caught in a manner that harms dolphins. Expressing their disappointment with the ruling, they suggested the decision will lead to consumer confusion about whether their tuna is dolphin safe.
Related programs linksFisheries and bycatch
Email a friend
WDCS in action
About whales and dolphins
Adopt a dolphin
Adopt a whale
Adopt an orca
I want to see whales and dolphins
Watching whales and dolphins
Turn the tide
Just for kids
Terms and Conditions
Make a Donation
Non visually impaired links
WDCS north america
WDCS south america