Swiss Go Dolphin-Safe

International Marine Mammal Project

Zurich – On April 4, the Working Group for the Protection of Marine Mammals-Switzerland (ASMS) and Earth Island Institute joined forces with Switzerland’s two largest supermarket chains, Coop and Migros, to introduce a new “dolphin-safe” label for canned tuna.

Between 1960 and 1990 approximately 7 million dolphins died during tuna fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP). Because dolphins are known to swim with Yellowfin tuna, some countries have used helicopters to locate schools of dolphins in order to pass the coordinates on to tuna ships, which then surround the dolphins with purse-seine nets to trap the tuna.

Every year several thousand dolphins die due to the injuries and trauma sustained in encounters with tuna fleets in the ETP. Most of the deaths are due to the fishing practices of the Mexican and Venezuelan tuna fleets.

The label is intended to make selecting truly dolphin-safe tuna products simpler for consumers. It can only be given to processors, brokers, distributors and retailers exclusively selling tuna caught without chasing, harassing, netting, injuring, or killing dolphins. Only companies that agree to participate in Earth Island’s International Monitoring Program (IMP) are eligible to adopt the label. EII’s monitoring program is directed by Brenda Killian, who began the project in 1991.

The ASMS has supported the dolphin-safe monitoring program for 10 years. Under the IMP, fishing fleets and dealers pledge not to offer any tuna caught using drift nets or purse-seine nets that could entrap and endanger dolphins. IMP’s staff monitors fishing vessels, boat docks and canneries and tracks all the paperwork to follow the tuna’s path from catch to supermarket shelf.

Until the April announcement, phrases such as “dolphin-friendly” and “dolphin-safe” had no standard interpretation on European labels and there was no guarantee that tuna so designated was really “dolphin-safe.”

“Migros and Coop cover about 85 percent of the Swiss retail market,” the ASMS stated. “We hope that other distributors, retailers and catering businesses will follow Coop’s and Migros’ example, so that soon 100 percent of the canned tuna products on the Swiss market are dolphin-safe.”

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