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NOAA Ducks On "Dolphin-Safe"

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yesterday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce released draft regulations to comply with last year's WTO ruling on the use of the dolphin-safe label on tuna products. The current dolphin-safe label fails to adequately ensure consumers that no dolphins were harmed in the capture of tuna bearing the label. While the proposed draft regulations acknowledge this reality, according to the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, they do not protect dolphins or provide consumers with accurate information.

The WTO found that the U.S. dolphin-safe label does not inform consumers about the killing of dolphins in any of the world's tuna fisheries other than the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Ocean, "even if dolphins have in fact been killed or seriously injured during the trip." Consequently, consumers are deprived of information about dolphin mortalities for more than 95 percent of the tuna labeled dolphin-safe that is sold in the United States today.

The NOAA draft regulations do not rectify the failings of the current labeling regime. Congress, in enacting the 1997 International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA), specified that any alternative dolphin-safe label used in the U.S. market must be backed by independent proof that no dolphins were harmed or killed, supported by 100 percent observer coverage and a robust and specific tracking and verification system based on the one in place in the ETP. The central truth is that for the past twenty years the major tuna companies, StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, have been using alternative dolphin-safe labels that do not comply with these mandates, creating false expectations for consumers.

For tuna caught outside the ETP, the proposed regulations do not offer any real protections for dolphins or consumers. Specifically, they call only for a captain's self-certification that no dolphins were killed or injured in the capture of the tuna. This puts the power of dolphin-safe designation solely in the hands of an economically self-interested party – the captain of the vessel.

The draft regulations would perpetuate the deficient standards for tracking and verification requirements for alternative dolphin-safe labels currently in use. They would hide from consumers the fact that tens of thousands of dolphins are killed each year in non-ETP tuna fisheries around the world. As a result, this dolphin-deadly tuna would continue to be labeled dolphin-safe.

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