International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island Reports

Memorials, Awards, and a Labeling Controversy

photo of a dolphin in deep waterphoto flickr user prilfish

Ric O’Barry and the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) team have spent the last few months circling the globe to protect dolphins and whales.

O’Barry joined 21 people from seven different countries in Taiji, Japan, on September 1, the first day of the dolphin-hunting season. They peacefully gathered on the shore of the notorious Cove and held a moment of silence for the souls of the dolphins that were to be killed and for the souls of the Japanese people who died in the March tsunami. Dozens of Japanese TV and print reporters covered the event and posted mostly positive stories about IMMP’s campaign.

In October, O’Barry was in Toronto picking up the 2011 International Eco Hero Award from the Planet in Focus Film Festival. He went on to Germany in November to receive a Bambi Award, the oldest media award in the country, from Hubert Burda Media, and then an Environmental Hero Award in France. He also recently visited Thailand, Singapore, and the Caribbean island of St. Maarten and worked with local grassroots groups in each nation to promote an end to exploitation of captive dolphins.

In other IMMP news, a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel recently ruled that the United States’ “Dolphin Safe” label on tuna products could be overly restrictive of trade, although the panel also ruled that the goals of the labels were legitimate, setting up a direct conflict between “free trade” and protection of the environment. The ruling stems from a 2009 complaint filed by the Mexican government, on behalf of a handful of Mexican tuna-fishing millionaires, that US restrictions to protect dolphins from being killed during industrial fishing expeditions discriminate against the Mexican tuna industry.

The Mexican government is claiming that the WTO ruled in its favor, but in fact the decision is more mixed. While the ruling does state that America’s dolphin safe rules are too restrictive, it also says that the US rules don’t discriminate against the Mexican fishing industry specifically. So the ruling doesn’t mean that tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins is going to be sold under the “Dolphin Safe” label in the near future.

IMMP is working with other organizations to protect the Dolphin Safe label and urge the Obama administration to appeal the WTO ruling.

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