Within hours of the decision by the Department of Commerce to allow dolphin-caught tuna to be sold as "dolphin-safe" in American markets, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Earth Island Institute, and other groups were back in court suing the federal government. In dramatically relaxing the standards of the dolphin-safe label, the Department of Commerce asserted that the setting of nets on dolphins causes "no significant adverse impact" even though a brand new study by their own scientists says the opposite.
The National Marine Fisheries Service study found that populations of eastern spinner and offshore spotted dolphins have failed to recover from a seventy percent decline suffered from decades of pursuit and entrapment from tuna boats. It also showed an entirely new category of heretofore unreported deaths-unweaned babies separated from their moms during the chase, and "cryptic kill" where animals are injured and go off to die. Even without counting these mortalities, over seven million dolphins have died through this method of fishing.
Allowing the sale of dolphin-deadly tuna in the U.S., fraudulently labeled as "dolphin-safe," is expected to cause between 20,000 and 40,000 dolphin deaths a year.
The dolphin-safe label is one of the biggest successes in using consumer awareness to protect a threatened and beloved creature. Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced new legislation forbidding the change in label that would "blatantly mislead the American public."
As we go to press, an agreement to stay the implementation of the new label has been signed by the Judge. For the moment at least, the dolphin-safe label still means what it says.