Tuna Whistleblower Exposes Killing of Protected Marine Life

Did other sea animals needlessly die just so we can have our canned tuna? It's pretty likely. Bycatch – untargeted marine life caught accidentally – has been a major problem in the tuna industry as a result of wasteful fishing methods, causing the widespread death of threatened marine animals, including sharks, dolphins and turtles.

Last week, Greenpeace released whistleblower video footage that shows tuna fishermen killing and dumping protected marine life caught as bycatch in their nets.

The animals were lured into massive purse-seine nets by Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) – floating objects used to attract fish but that also draw other unwanted marine species as well.

The footage was taken by a New Zealand helicopter pilot in 2009 who worked as a spotter for tuna fishing boats operating in the Pacific Ocean. The whistleblower, whose identity Greenpeace disguised to protect him from industry retaliation, "said marine species, such as dolphins, manta rays, marlin and whales, were caught almost every time FADs were deployed," according to Australian news outlet PerthNow.

Dolphin-safe-logoDespite the above whistleblower testimony, the use of FADs is considered a "dolphin-safe" fishing technique, and became popular worldwide during the 1990s after U.S. consumers started demanding "dolphin-safe" tuna (now a label under dispute with Mexico). While FADs cause less dolphin mortality than deploying purse-seine nets specifically on schools of tuna that swim with dolphins ("dolphin sets"), FADs remain the deadliest method when it comes to the resulting amount of bycatch (which may still include dolphins and other protected marine mammals).

Greenpeace asserts that banning the use of FADs in purse-seine fisheries would reduce canned tuna's bycatch by up to 90 percent.

It doesn't help that fishermen are responsible for self-reporting the dolphin, fish and turtle bycatch mortality caused by FADs, since their boats are typically too small for fishery regulators to require them to carry an observer aboard. Even observers on big boats, reports All About Wildlife.com, are often pressured "to look the other way when dolphin mortality may be occurring."

These industry pressures and limited label policies make whistleblowers essential. Only via honest insiders can we keep consumers in the know about the negative impacts of canned tuna production, and hold the big tuna brands accountable for their harmful practices.

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


Comments (2)

  1. This exactly Mexico's case before the WTO. The double standard promoted by the Dolpin Safe label by insistance of Earth Island Insutute in order to exclude Mexican Tuna from the Dolphin Safe label.

    Mexican Tuna complies with all the efforts available to protect dolphins through new environmentaly sound and supervised techniques approved by the US Government under binding International Agreements such as the AIDCP, while allowing non supervised fishermen from other parts of the world to obtain the Dolphin Safe label, even if they kill dolphins and many other species depleting the stocks of tuna by catching juvenile tuna instead of mature Tuna.

    Earth Island argues withoug any sound evidence that Mexico might not kill dolphins but stress them, affecting their capacity to reproduce. The truth is that there is a healthy popultation of species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific to a great extent thanks to the Mexican fishing method which protects dolphins and cathces only Tuna.

    Get rid of the Dolphin Safe label, and start asking others for similar measures as those adopted by the Mexican Fleet. Ask for 100% supervision in other oceans as the Mexican fleet is subject to, and stop using Mexico as an excuse to promote consumption of Tuna from other parts of the world.
  2. The U.S. dolphin safe is a farce, the U.S. fleet is a farce!
    The U.S. uses the label to protect corporate interests of Earth Island's business. Dolphin Safe label means nothing else than blocking Mexican tuna which actually does protect dolphins; U.S dolphin safe label allows for tuna from other parts of the world to use the label EVEN IF THEY KILL DOLPHINS. Ask and find out WHO HAS INTERESTS IN EARTH ISLAND BUSINESS. See this video (this is how the U.S. fleet currently catches Tuna) Is this really an environmental policy or just an attempt to protect a multibillion dollar U.S. industry??? http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/news/oceans/Shocking-tuna-fishing-footage/
    The AIDCP is the only label that provides true information and that protects marine mammals!

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