Will Obama Urge Mexico to Support Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labeling?

In September the World Trade Organization deemed the label ‘too trade-restrictive.’

Six environmental and animal-rights organizations have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to persuade Mexican President Felipe Calderon to reconsider his country’s opposition to dolphin-safe tuna labelling, an industry practice that has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of dolphins over the last few decades. The two world leaders are scheduled to meet next week in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In mid-September the World Trade Organization ruled that “dolphin-safe” tuna cans authorized by the U.S. Commerce Department “are more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve a legitimate objective” of informing consumers whether or not dolphins were killed in tuna fishing, reports Fox News.

“We’re hoping President Obama will use his influence with the Mexican President to engage him on the importance of this issue to the United States—that it go the NAFTA Tribunal, rather than to the WTO, where it doesn’t belong,” says Mark Palmer, the Associate Director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project.

If the preliminary ruling stands—Palmer says the U.S. will most likely file an appeal in January—Mexican fishermen would be allowed to sell tuna to canners marketing dolphin-safe tuna in the U.S. even if it was caught with methods that violate the dolphin-safe rules.

“Mexico has dragged out this dispute more than 20 years—20 years when the Mexican government could have been helping their fishermen transition to tuna fishing methods that would save dolphin lives,” wrote Palmer today on Save Japan Dolphins, a sister organization of Earth Island Institute.



Dolphins and tuna swim together, a relationship that proved deadly for cetaceans for decades, reports The New York Times:

In the 1950s, with the advent of strong nets fashioned with artificial materials and the introduction of hydraulic crane power, fishermen exploited this relationship to track the tuna, encircle them in massive nets and carry out large-scale captures. That led to the deaths of millions of dolphins.

Decades later, the United States demanded that American fleets take precautions to protect dolphins, a policy that was later adopted by some other countries including Ecuador. The number of dolphins being killed declined. Tuna that were captured with such methods won the American dolphin-safe label.

Palmer tells TakePart that if the WTO’s decision stands, there will be pressure on the United States to weaken dolphin-safe label standards.

“They [Mexico] have an agreement that they ginned up with other countries in the Eastern and Tropical Pacific which says, basically, that we can chase the dolphins, we can net the dolphins, we can even kill the dolphins, but if we don’t go over a certain number of kills, well, then it’s dolphin safe,” says Palmer. “Clearly, this is absurd.”

In addition to the Earth Island Institute, five other groups signed the letter to Obama: Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Welfare Institute, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Click here to view a list of dolphin-safe tuna processing companies and fishing companies.