International Marine Mammal Project

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Earth Island News

ECO, the IMMP-edited daily newsletter, returned to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in May. ECO represents the voice of the whales and the conservation community at IWC meetings, where NGOs are not allowed to speak or debate the important questions of whaling and whale protection. IMMP provides the staff to write, edit, copy, and distribute ECO every day during the IWC meetings.

The May 2007 meetings were particularly contentious. Held in Anchorage, Alaska, the meeting followed up last year’s efforts by Japan to take over the IWC by doling out billions of dollars in fisheries aid to small nations in return for their support for expanded whaling. Last year, Japan managed to pass a resolution condemning the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. The Japanese delegation also accused NGOs of using the IWC only to raise money.

The IWC also discussed a renewal of quotas for Alaskan Inuit peoples’ subsistence hunting of bowhead whales. While the hunts are not harming the bowhead whale stocks and no commercialization of the whale meat is allowed, Japan has been trying to trade off allowing the bowhead whale subsistence quota in return for a renewal of Japan’s commercial whaling fleet. (Japan’s fleet now kills thousands of whales each year under the guise of “scientific” whaling – the whale meat and byproducts are then sold commercially in Japan.)

To read this year’s edition of ECO, go to IMMP’s Web site,

New tuna protections for dolphins

International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) operates one of the largest and best environmental monitoring programs in the world. Some 382 companies have signed IMMP’s Dolphin Safe policy, which is aimed at verifying that canned tuna sold in the US and Europe is truly Dolphin Safe.

Earth Island maintains a staff of monitors around the world who check tuna shipments, documents, and fishing fleets to ensure tuna labeled as “Dolphin Safe” is exactly that. The international standards for Dolphin Safe tuna, developed and verified by IMMP, include important protections for marine life other than dolphins. For example, the standards require that tuna companies have no links to companies engaged in commercial whaling. The standards also seek to reduce bycatch of non-target species, such as sea turtles, and prohibit hunting of sharks for their fins (the latter restriction has been adopted by several international tuna commissions after IMMP first proposed it in 1997). Dolphin Safe standards prohibit catching tuna with drift gill nets or chasing and netting dolphins using purse-seine nets.

dolphin-safe tuna logo and seal. a stylized drawing of a leaping dolphin in a circle, with the word 'safe' below it

In 2006, IMMP monitors made 835 separate inspections of tuna facilities in 52 countries of 382 companies that have signed IMMP’s Dolphin Safe policy. IMMP managed to stop six shipments of tuna that were masquerading as Dolphin Safe.

Recently, IMMP conducted the following actions, aimed at protecting dolphins and other marine life using market forces to promote Dolphin Safe fishing techniques:

Stopping illegal tuna imports

Food Lion, a major supermarket chain based in Salisbury, NC, operates stores throughout the US. Recently, IMMP discovered that some of these stores were selling Dolores Brand tuna – a brand that was not Dolphin Safe.

Dolores Brand is canned in Mazatlan, Mexico, by the Mexican tuna giant PINSA. PINSA is the largest corporate killer of dolphins in the world today, responsible for the deaths of thousands of dolphins (and possibly many thousands more that go unreported). PINSA has a history of illegally importing tuna into the US with a phony Dolphin Safe label, but a complaint from IMMP led to the seizure of a truckload of illegal tuna at the US-Mexico border, resulting in a $40,000 fine to the importing company. PINSA has since removed the fake Dolphin Safe label from most of its tuna, but still informs unsuspecting companies, like Food Lion, that its tuna is “Dolphin Safe.”

When first confronted with the Dolores tuna problem, Food Lion was reluctant to take action. But IMMP staff reminded the food giant of its pledge hat it would buy only truly Dolphin Safe tuna. IMMP also provided documentation of PINSA’s dolphin-killing history. Food Lion has subsequently stopped importing Dolores Brand tuna and has renewed its pledge to only buy Dolphin Safe tuna. IMMP thanks Food Lion for its vow to protect dolphins.

Exposing Asiservy Tuna Company

A similar problem arose when IMMP monitors discovered that one of our Dolphin Safe tuna canneries in Ecuador was buying tuna from a fleet that has refused to join Earth Island’s Dolphin Safe program. Because this fleet, the Ortisi Group, does not abide by the international Dolphin Safe standards and won’t allow inspections by IMMP monitors, the tuna cannot be verified as being truly Dolphin Safe. IMMP has advised member companies that they should not buy tuna from this source.

However, the Asiservy cannery ignored IMMP’s alert about the Ortisi fleet and failed to provide any information to IMMP monitors about its plans to process tuna from the Ortisi fleet. Subsequent attempts to contact Asiservy went unanswered.

In keeping with our standards, Asiservy of Ecuador has now been removed from IMMP’s online list of Dolphin Safe tuna companies. We have notified our cooperating companies around the world that they should not buy any tuna from Asiservy.

Paolo Bray, the European Director of IMMP monitoring based in Milan, Italy, recently detected shipments of Asiservy tuna arriving in Spain and Italy. He contacted the major European tuna-importing company associations and individual companies, and advised them to stop purchasing tuna from Asiservy, thereby cutting off the lucrative European market for this tainted tuna.

Shutting down gill nets
photo of a scene in a commuter train, people smiling at someone in a full-body dolphin costumeJoshua Roberts / ReutersDolphin lobbyists ride the metro in Washington to support dolphin safe fishing.

IMMP’s Associate Director Mark Berman recently returned from a two-and-a-half-week visit to Southeast Asia and Pacific nations, where he met with tuna companies in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and several other countries.

Far Ocean seafood products, a company based in Singapore, has been marketing very cheap albacore tuna. The problem? The tuna has been caught with gill nets, one of the most destructive types of fishing gear.

Plastic gill nets can stretch for miles. Underwater, the fibers are undetectable by the sonar used by dolphins and whales to navigate. Every year, thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seals, sea lions, sharks, rays, diving seabirds, and a wide variety of other species, become entangled in such nets. Because of these known dangers, tuna caught by gill nets cannot be considered Dolphin Safe.

Far Ocean, in meetings with Berman, stated that the gill nets are still legal in Southeast Asia. Berman noted that the legal issue has nothing to do with IMMP’s international standards for Dolphin Safe tuna. Only those companies that agree to protect marine life can be included on Earth Island’s list of Dolphin Safe companies.

After Far Ocean refused to join the Dolphin Safe program, Berman alerted IMMP’s regional monitors and visited local companies to warn them that they should not buy tuna from Far Ocean – or any other company not on our list.

These examples show the scope and importance of maintaining vigilance in monitoring the impacts of the tuna industry on dolphins and other marine life. IMMP is proud of its role in reducing dolphin deaths and protecting many marine species while supporting tuna companies that maintain the Dolphin Safe policy.

For further information on IMMP’s Dolphin Safe tuna program, please go to

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