Posts Tagged ‘dolphin’

The Tragedy of Dolphin-Safe Tuna

November 25, 2010

A horrific example of the failure of greenwashing and a speciesist approach to animal protection is the problem of dolphin-safe tuna. It hit the public consciousness when various environmental organizations such as the Earth Island Institute and Greenpeace started awareness and lobbying campaigns to stop the then common tuna fishing methods being used in the Eastern Pacific Ocean which they considered cruel and environmentally unsound. You see, schools of yellowfin tuna tend to be associated with dolphins in the EPO, possibly either for protection or to help locate prey, by following these dolphins fishermen were able to easily locate the tuna. Then they would encircle the school of fish, dolphins and all, with purse seine nets. While many crews made efforts to allow the dolphin to escape, numerous dolphin died of asphyxiation, from stress, or were bludgeoned to death, hundreds of thousands of dolphins were killed each year.

The legal campaign was successful and eventually “dolphin-safe” labeling was codified in US law. To prevent unnecessary suffering or death, the new dolphin-safe guidelines essentially banned the technique of “dolphin fishing”, the intentional chasing or encirclement of dolphins. This policy applies only to US boats or boats catching tuna to be sold in the US, for other nations “dolphin fishing” is still common and many foreign vessel have filled the gap US vessels left when many of them were decommissioned or started fishing the west pacific. Since then tuna fishers wishing to sell their tuna in the US have had to go through much greater trouble and expense to locate free swimming schools of tuna, known as “school fishing”, or resort to Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD) also know as “log fishing”. These are floating objects are designed to aggregate marine life to one spot for easy netting, though the reason they attract such a wide variety(over 300 species) of marine life in not fully understood and may vary by species. The more high tech FADs are be equipped with GPS and sonar to allow for remote monitoring of number of fish and one ship can service multiple FADs, a very efficient method to generate large catches. This efficiency comes at a price though. While it does kill less dolphins, compared to netting tuna associated with dolphins, netting tuna around FADs creates significantly more non-cetacean “bycatch”, an industry euphemism for the “unintentional” victims of their nets.

Scientists with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) came up with these estimates of bycatch rates per 10,000 sets of purse seine nets for the three fishing methods mentioned earlier. The method called “school fishing” of netting “immature yellowfin tuna found swimming in schools, will cause the deaths of eight dolphins; 2.4 million small tuna; 2100 mahi mahi; 12,220 sharks; 530 wahoo; 270 rainbow runners; 1010 other small fish; 1440 billfish; and 580 sea turtles.”

Using FADs and catching “immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.”

And using the old methods to net “mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

Rod and reel fishing wasn’t mentioned and while it has low bycatch rates, it is expensive, time consuming, and the large amount of baitfish required would have to be considered. You may also notice that for the first two methods “immature tuna” are referred to where as for the “dolphin-fishing” method “mature tuna” are referred to. This is because the fish attracted to FADs or found free swimming tend to be younger and smaller than schools swimming with dolphins, scooping up these fish will have a greater effect on the tuna population as a whole causing subsequent catches to drop by as much as 25%.

As you can see the current reliance on FADs has resulted in larger kills of sea turtles, rays, juvenile tuna, and at least several endangered species and is a large factor in the decline of some shark populations, an important issue as of late. While some conservationist’s response to this issue is to return to the fishing method of encircling dolphins, the anti-speciesist response would likely be to recognize fishing is inherently cruel and stop altogether. As consumers we can choose the tuna-safe alternative and avoid culpability in the deaths of dolphins, sharks, and tuna.


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