Subject: Info: House Approves Dismantling of Dolphin Safe Tuna

Michael Williamson (
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 11:27:32 -0400 (EDT)


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Date: Thu, 1 Aug 96 11:24:00 UTC 0000
Subject: House Approves Dismantling of

House Approves Dismantling of Dolphin-Safe Tuna ...

   WASHINGTON, July 31 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Most conservation groups warn that
House passage today of legislation weakening standards for labeling tuna cans
will prevent consumers from knowing whether tuna is "dolphin-safe" and lead to
dolphin deaths.
   Defenders of Wildlife and a coalition of eighty other groups adamantly
the bill, H.R. 2823 sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), because it
would weaken the definition of "dolphin-safe" tuna, relax tough U.S.
enforcement measures, and directly threaten the highly imperilled spotted and
spinner dolphin populations. A companion bill (S. 1420) is expected on the
Senate floor after the August congressional recess.
   "Today, Congress took a huge step backwards and allowed special interests
trade politics to dictate environmental legislation in this country.  This
bill would dismantle one of the most popular consumer programs ever, and would
completely ignore the concerns of thousands of school children and others
across America whose demands for an end to dolphin killing led to the current
law," said Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen. "Children can tell that
harvesting tuna by chasing, harassing, encircling, and injuring dolphins and
separating nursing calves from their mothers is not safe for dolphins. They
seem to understand truth-in-labeling better than most members of Congress."
   Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Island Institute, Sierra Club and many other
groups supported an amendment to H.R. 2823 offered by Representatives George
Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) that would have retained the
integrity of the "dolphin-safe" label by providing consumers with a notice on
tuna cans about whether the tuna has been caught without intentionally setting
nets upon them. Harassment and injury of dolphins is illegal under the Marine
Mammal Protection Act.  However, the Gilchrest bill changes the definition of
the "dolphin-safe" label to allow intothe U.S. market tuna that was caught by
methods that encircle, harass, and chase dolphins in order to catch
accompanying tuna, as long as no "observed" dolphin deaths occur. Studds and
Miller offered an amendment on the House floor to retain the present
definition, but it failed by a vote of 161-260.
   The Gilchrest bill was written in response to Mexican demands that the
States change its tuna-dolphin policy after an international tribunal ruled
that current U.S. law is inconsistent with General Agreement on Tariffs and
Trade (GATT) standards. It would implement an international agreement, known
as the Declaration of Panama, which was signed last October by the United
States, Mexico, and nine other countries.  The Declaration of Panama mandates
weakened U.S. dolphin protection laws including the 1990 Dolphin Consumer
Protection Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
   "The Gilchrest-sponsored, White House- supported bill is simply bad
legislation that authorizes deliberate killing of depleted species of
dolphins.  The dolphins and American consumers lose, while foreign lobbyists
and special interests win," claimed Defenders' legal director William Snape.
   Conservationists say the Gilchrest bill's definition of "dolphin-safe" does
not take into account the various harmful effects of chasing and encircling
dolphins with nets or the fact that many dolphins will die in the nets, though
   Under current U.S. law, tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP)
can set nets on schools of tuna not accompanied by dolphins and on floating
objects such as logs to avoid setting nets on dolphins.  The Gilchrest bill
advocates setting nets on dolphins again, arguing that alternative methods
result in high mortality levels of other species like sea turtles and juvenile
tuna. However, the federal government's own scientists have admitted that sea
turtle bycatch levels are a result of fishermen killing for food, and that the
tuna population has not been significantly depleted as a result of juvenile
tuna being caught.
   Defenders and its coalition support bipartisan legislation sponsored by
and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) which would retain the present dolphin-safe
standard but would change the current law's trade provisions to create an
incentive for responsible Mexican tuna fishers to practice dolphin-safe
methods.  The Miller/Studds bill is consistent with both NAFTA and the
GATT/WTO requirements. On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has
introduced the conservation legislation.