International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island News

Dolphin-Safe in the Maldives
The Maldivian tuna fishery in the Indian Ocean has been a part of International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP)‘s Dolphin-Safe program almost from its inception.

Maldives Dolphin-Safe tuna unloaded from a traditional pole-and-line boat. --Jacqueline Sauzier photo
Maldives Dolphin-Safe tuna unloaded from a traditional pole-and-line boat.
Jacqueline Sauzier photo

The country’s economically dominant fishery, the Maldivian tuna industry is the most environmentally sustainable skipjack fishery in the world. Using only pole-and-line fishing, the Maldivian skipjack industry is safe for dolphins and other marine life. The fishermen target mature schools, and never set nets on tuna.

Skipjack is one of the most prolific tuna species, and skipjack tuna fisheries are generally in good health throughout the world. The Maldives’ fishing waters were divided into four zones in 2002, each one allocated on a contract basis to tuna companies for fishing and processing operations.

MIFCO is a state-owned tuna company, and from the start of monitoring in 1992, has always worked with IMMP. In October 2004, MIFCO invited IMMP to meet with it and the four zone companies to enroll them in the monitoring campaign. All four private companies signed the IMMP Dolphin-Safe Policy.

In the next few years, new Dolphin-Safe products will be on the international market. IMMP completely vets the tuna fishing method of the Maldives through its monitoring program. We are pleased to continue working with our Maldivian colleagues to ensure that their tuna industry is completely safe for dolphins and other marine life as the industry provides crucial economic development opportunities in the post-tsunami Maldives.

—Jacqueline Sauzier

Dolphin-Safe Kiwis
IMMP hails the adoption of its Dolphin-Safe program by Ocean Pure Corporation of New Zealand. Ocean Pure catches albacore tuna using bait boats with hook and line. The company states that IMMP’s standards mirror their philosophy for the protection and sustainability of the ocean life.

We are very pleased to welcome Ocean Pure to our list of tuna companies abiding by our international Dolphin-Safe standards, said David Phillips, director of IMMP. Our standards are followed by 90 percent of the world’s tuna industries, ensuring consumers around the world that dolphins and other marine life are not harmed by tuna harvesting methods.

In order for tuna to be considered Dolphin-Safe, it cannot be caught by intentional chasing, netting, or encirclement of dolphins with purse seine nets, or by using drift gill nets.

Our standards further encourage the reduction of by-catch and protection of non-target species besides dolphins, notes Mark Berman, assistant director of IMMP. For example, we require our cooperating companies to ban the practice of finning sharks.

Ocean Pure Corporation is the first and only tuna processor in New Zealand and Australia to sign up with IMMP as a Dolphin-Safe tuna company.

More than 300 canners, tuna fleets, brokers, and retail companies worldwide currently have Dolphin-Safe policies with IMMP.
—Mark J. Palmer

Toxic dolphin meat
IMMP recently joined the Elsa Nature Conservancy (ENC) of Japan and One Voice, a leading French animal protection organization, to warn that dolphin meat sold to the Japanese people is highly contaminated with mercury, methyl mercury, cadmium, DDT, and PCBs. Despite evidence of dangerous contamination, the Japanese government provides no warning to its people that eating dolphin meat—often mislabeled in Japanese markets as whale meat—is a serious health hazard.

The people of Japan have long suffered from severe pollution and contamination, explained David Phillips, director of IMMP. Dolphin and whale meat are seriously contaminated with poisons that can injure, sicken, and kill people. Yet the Japanese government has taken no steps to protect its people from harm.

Fishermen drive dolphins into shallow bays and nets, where most of them are harpooned and butchered. Other dolphins are sold for high profits to aquariums around the world. The aquarium industry and swim-with-dolphins programs around the world help subsidize the continuing dolphin slaughter in Japan.

If the people of Japan knew the truth, they would refuse to buy the poisoned meat of dolphins that have been brutally slaughtered, said Ric O’Barry, lead investigator of One Voice. But the government and the fishing industry keep this dangerous secret hidden from the Japanese people. It is time for the Japanese government to end the slaughter of dolphins and end the poisoning of its people.

ENC sent some meat from a bottlenose dolphin butchered in Futo in November to the University of Hokkaido, where Dr. Tetsuya Endo of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences examined it for mercury contamination. It contained 19.2 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, 48 times higher than the maximum advisory level of 0.4 ppm set by the Japanese government. Mercury can cause severe neurological damage in adults, and is particularly dangerous when consumed by children and pregnant women.

International teams of scientists working for the Environmental Investigation Agency and other groups have analyzed hundreds of samples of whale and dolphin meat sold in Japan. They reported to the International Whaling Commission that more than 90 percent of the samples exceeded limits for one or more pollutants. One sample had more than 1,600 times the permitted level of mercury. The average level of mercury was more than five times the maximum allowable level, while the average concentration of methyl mercury was four times the maximum.

It is long past time that the Japanese government ends the slaughter of dolphins for meat, said Phillips.

Holme Roberts & Owen: Counsel for the Dolphins
IMMP salutes the pro bono legal work that the San Francisco/Denver law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen (HRO) has contributed to protecting dolphins in the tuna fishery. HRO has been at the helm of our lawsuit to prevent the weakening of the Dolphin-Safe tuna label, scoring a major victory in October 2004 with a strong ruling by US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson in support of a strong label.

HRO lawyers Joshua Floum and Ariela St. Pierre contributed a great deal of time and effort to arguing the case (EII v. Evans). Both will still consult with IMMP on the legal side of dolphin safety. HRO will continue to provide lawyers to follow any appeals to the Henderson decision in the future.

More than a decade ago, US consumers, environmental groups, legislators, and tuna companies joined together to pass the Dolphin-Safe label law to end the deadly practice of chasing and netting dolphins, states St. Pierre. Unfortunately, since that time, political and trade interests have waged war on this landmark legislation, and while we are thrilled to have achieved much success in the courts the last few years, the battle is not over. We are honored to continue fighting on Earth Island’s and the other plaintiffs’ behalf to uphold the dolphin-safe label and to secure lasting protections for dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Holme Roberts & Owen is very pleased to have this opportunity to continue assisting IMMP, EII, and others on this important global issue, notes Attorney Richard Mooney. It is a great way to give something back to the community and to make a real difference in curtailing the needless killing of intelligent marine mammals.

The partnership of IMMP staff and HRO attorneys has forged an internationally recognized team of dolphin protectors.

Dolphin-Safe Web site
IMMP’s new Web site now includes a list of tuna companies verified by Earth Island as Dolphin-Safe.

Take action: For the current list of Earth Island monitored tuna companies, visit

You can visit the site at The same URL will work with .net and .org as well.

Tuna company information will be updated regularly.

IMMP’s unique International Monitoring Program maintains twelve staff members in seven countries around the world. These monitors regularly inspect tuna in canneries, at dockside, and aboard fishing vessels in order to assure consumers that the tuna they buy is truly Dolphin-Safe.

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