Dolphin Safe Tuna

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Dolphin Safe Tuna

Dolphin Safe Tuna by the Numbers:

--> One year without Dolphin Safe Regulations would amount to more than 100 years of Taiji dolphin slaughters.

--> 7 MILLION dolphins were killed in tuna purse seine nets from 1950 until the Dolphin Safe program began, making it the most devastating killing of marine mammals in world history.

--> During the 1980s: 80,000 to 100,000 dolphins were killed every year, until the Dolphin Safe program began in 1990.

--> Fast-forward to 2014:  More than 95% of world canned tuna industry now abides by Dolphin Safe’s ban on all intentional chase, capture or killing of dolphins. 

--> International observers document approx. 1000 dolphins killed per year by vessels that don’t abide by the Dolphin Safe Program, mostly by Mexican fleets. 

--> In the Western & Central Tropical Pacific Ocean (largest tuna fishing grounds in the world), vessels have 100% observer coverage, and international regulations PROHIBIT intentional encirclement of dolphins.  Observers document Dolphin Safe tuna fishing practices, catching tuna without dolphin mortality.

--> In 2014, 508 tuna companies, importers, and retailers were monitored by Earth Island’s Dolphin Safe Program, which conducted 768 inspections of tuna operations in 70 countries.

--> The EII no-encirclement Dolphin Safe definition & standards were written into federal law 25 years ago in United States in 1990.

        Why Does Tuna Fishing Kill Dolphins?

In the Eastern Tropical Pacific ocean, (ETP), tuna swim below pods of dolphins. When a pod of dolphins is spotted, it is very likely to have a school of yellowfin tuna swimming beneath.

In the late 1950s, fisherman began targeting dolphins with spotter helicopters and chasing them down with speedboats. Speedboats drove the exhausted dolphins into a tight circle while the mothership deployed a mile-long purse seine net to trap both tuna and dolphins.  This year-round fishing process resulted in dolphins drowning, dying of shock, and separating dolphin babies from their mothers. In short, this fishing method is a frightening nightmare for dolphins. (Reports of trauma can be found here, here and here.

Efforts were made in the 1970's & 80’s to reduce dolphin mortality, however the killing continued at high levels.  

Since 1990 the practice of intentional encirclement as a method to catch tuna has been discredited and abandoned by most tuna fishing fleets in the world.


This is Earth Island's trademarked Dolphin Safe label.  Look for it or similar company Dolphin Safe labels on the can of tuna.  Some foreign tuna, where truth-in-advertising laws are lax, may have a phony Dolphin Safe label.  You can check our list of tuna companies that are truly Dolphin Safe and inspected by Earth Island's International Dolphin Safe Monitoring Program by checking our list on our website Dolphin Safe for Consumers.


What is Dolphin Safe?

In 1990 Earth Island Institute (EII) reached agreements with the largest tuna companies in the world to only process and sell tuna caught without chasing and netting of dolphins.

In order for tuna to be considered "Dolphin Safe", it must meet the following standards:

  1. No intentional chasing, netting or encirclement of dolphins during an entire tuna fishing trip;

  2. No use of drift gill nets;

  3. No accidental killing or serious injury to any dolphins during net sets;

  4. No mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna on vessels or in processing or storage facilities; and

  5. Each trip in the ETP must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with points (1) through (4) above.

Under EII’s Dolphin Safe Program companies must agree that:

  • All processing, storage, and transshipment facilities and procurement records related to the purchase, processing, storage, transport, and sale of tuna must be made available for independent monitoring by EII.

  • Companies listed as "Dolphin Safe" must maintain "Dolphin Safe" policies approved by EII and apply them to all international aspects of their operations and related subsidiaries.

These standards have been adopted by more than 95% of the world’s tuna industry (companies in Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela are the primary holdouts: details below).

Dolphin Safe Monitoring Program

EII established the International Monitoring Program to verify that tuna is Dolphin Safe in accordance with EII and US legal standards. Monitors work with tuna companies around the world to:

  • Implement Dolphin Safe Policies and allow access by EII tuna monitors to vessels, processing plants, and storage facilities;

  • Review catch records in addition to onsite inspections;

  • Investigate reports of nonconformance by tuna companies and ensure that dolphin-unsafe tuna is taken off the market; and

  • Conduct on-board monitoring in hot-spot areas where independent international observers are not required.

International observers (appointed by governments & not affiliated with EII) are now onboard virtually all Pacific Ocean tuna purse seine vessels.  These observers report violations of Dolphin Safe regulations of both the regional fisheries management organization and US law.  Tuna imported into the US has both EII observers in the processing and storage facilities and onboard international monitors.

The EII Dolphin Safe Program is voluntary and has no set fees.  Companies and importer associations are encouraged to make contributions to defray the costs of EII’s travel, investigations, and other monitoring expenses.

The Mexican Problem – follow the $$$

Most dolphin unsafe tuna on world markets is caught by Mexico in the ETP.  Mexico claims that since they kill fewer dolphins than they did it the past, their tuna should be recognized as Dolphin Safe.

Meanwhile, peer reviewed scientific research demonstrates that ETP dolphin populations are still being damaged by the intentional encirclement by Mexican tuna fleets. 

The Mexican government and their tuna industry have established a front group, Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, which lobbies the US Congress to scrap the Dolphin Safe label law and criticizes EII and the Dolphin Safe label. 

While this group claims to be “Eco-Safe”, its actual intent is to perpetuate the discredited practice of intentional chase and capture of dolphins by tuna fleets.

DON’T BE FOOLED. This organization is bought and paid for by Mexican tuna companies that continue to chase, net, injure, harass, and kill dolphins..

The truth about FADs

Fish Aggregating Devises (FADs) have been used by fishermen for decades as a way of catching tuna.  Some are naturally occurring, like logs and reeds, others are now man-made with radios for fishermen to find their location.  FADs result in bycatch depending on their design and when and where they are used. 

Tuna companies, retailers, and the public have called for the reduction and/or elimination of FADS in order to reduce bycatch.

There is no contradiction between FAD-free tuna and Dolphin Safe tuna.  In fact, EII supports the use of Dolphin Safe labels and FAD-free labels on numerous canned tuna products.

Dolphin Safe: Saving Dolphins

EII’s Dolphin Safe program does not promote the consumption of tuna. Our goal is to save dolphins.

We want to ensure that for those who do eat tuna, it does not come at the expense of dolphin lives.

EII has always supported efforts to ensure that the public is educated to avoid fish species that are endangered or severely depleted, such as bluefin tuna.  As for protecting tuna, the Dolphin Safe program has had the effect of shifting fishing pressure from yellowfin tuna to the more abundant skipjack tuna.

Dolphin Safe standards continue to enjoy wide support from the public around the world and from the environmental conservation community.  The program has reduced dolphin killing by more than 96%.

Dolphin Safe tuna was an important victory in 1990 and it remains a crucial factor in dolphin protection today.



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