Killing Dolphins: MSC Seafood Label Greenwashes Dolphin-Killing Tuna Industry

The Marine Stewardship Council “eco”-certifies Mexico’s dolphin-killing tuna fleets in defiance of World Wildlife Fund, Earth Island and other NGOs and Scientists

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is one of the foremost certification programs in the world today for sustainable fish in the marketplace. MSC conducts extensive audits of fisheries and rewards certified fisheries with their blue ecolabel, encouraging consumers to buy their fish from sustainable sources. Fishermen and fish companies are lured by promises that they can charge consumers extra to buy their fish, just as certified organic produce costs more than regular produce. Criticism of MSC has often centered on fisheries with dubious certification – several fisheries have been certified despite high levels of non-target bycatch species and declining fish stocks.

Recently, MSC badly stumbled. They are granting their coveted “eco” certification to the Mexican tuna industry that uses the fishing method of intentionally chasing and capturing dolphin pods in order to catch the tuna that swim beneath.

Earth Island Institute’s Executive Director David Phillips called it: “an appalling decision that rewards the senseless killing of thousands of dolphins every year and destroys the credibility and reputation of the MSC.”

He continued: “Giving an eco-label to canned tuna caught by intentional netting and killing dolphins is consumer fraud, an illegal deception and is a prime example of greenwashing. Shame on the MSC. ”

More than 7 million dolphins have been killed by this cruel fishing method since it was initiated in 1960. This represents the largest marine mammal mortality associated with a fishing method in world history and has depleted at least two dolphin species to critically low levels.

Mexican fleets target dolphins deliberately in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, where, for reasons still unknown, yellowfin tuna and dolphins swim together. As the dolphins must breathe regularly at the surface, they are easily targeted by the large tuna purse seiners and helicopters used by the fleet.

Speedboats are sent out to chase and harass the dolphin pods until they are exhausted. Then the speedboats circle the dolphins while the purse seine vessel comes up and deploys a mile-long net around the pod of dolphins, knowing the tuna are beneath. The net is cinched up, like the drawstring of a purse, and the dolphins are kept in the net for up to 2 hours or more. Finally, the vessel does what is called the “back down procedure”, spilling dolphins into the ocean.

But there are many serious problems with this approach to catching tuna. Baby dolphins can’t keep up with pod during the chase sequence, and fall behind, to starve or be killed by sharks. Dolphins in the nets experience high stress levels and can be injured, dying away from the nets when released.

The Mexican tuna fleets and their allies in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (the former Mexican representative to the Commission is now the CEO of the Commission) contend few dolphins die, but extensive research by the US National Marine Fisheries Service, research which the MSC auditors blatantly rejected, has shown the fishing method has devastating impacts on targeted dolphin populations. Repeat captures on dolphin pods takes a steady toll of animals due to physiological stress and injuries.

In the US, standards for Dolphin Safe tuna, developed by Congress with the help of the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of Earth Island, prohibit the use of a Dolphin Safe label on tuna caught by targeting and netting dolphins. The Mexican government is trying to overturn these standards through the World Trade Organization, and the Mexican tuna industry is now getting an alternate but phony “sustainable” ecolabel from MSC.

More than 95% of the world canned tuna industry has renounced any purchase of tuna caught by this fishing method through IMMP’s Dolphin Safe tuna program. However, the Mexican tuna industry continues to use this practice of chasing and netting dolphins.

The MSC ruling comes after an adjudication hearing at which World Wildlife Fund formally objected and Earth Island Institute’s IMMP, Humane Society International and others submitted documentation proving that the MSC was capriciously relying on false estimates of dolphin kill levels in order to allow certification of the fishery.

The MSC Mission claimsto use our ecolabel and fishery certification programme to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.”

But MSC is now failing to abide by its own certification requirements prohibiting the targeting of mammals for any fishery certified by MSC. Phillips notes that: “MSC’s own Certification Requirements specifically prohibit the targeting of any mammals by a certifiable fishery. It is established fact that this fishery intentionally targets dolphins, and therefore the certification should have been disqualified immediately.”

Phillips continued: “This decision violates MSC’s own mission to reward sustainable fishing practices. Rewarding the single most dolphin-destructive fishing method in world history is unconscionable.”

Earth Island is not alone in objecting to the MSC decision. The World Wildlife Fund, which in the late 1970s founded the MSC program, announced it’s “deep concern” that the Mexican fishery fails to meet MSC standards and recommends seafood buyers reject claims that the fishery is “sustainable”.

The Humane Society International and the US Marine Mammal Commission also strongly oppose MSC’s approval of this fishery as does a group of more than 60 non-governmental organizations and marine mammal scientists from around the world.

Earth Island Institute’s IMMP called on MSC to immediately reverse the eco-certification of this fishery. Phillips stated: “There is still time for MSC to reverse this cruel, inhumane, and wrongful ruling, and we urge them to do so.”

For more information on Dolphin Safe label: http://savedolphins.eii.org/campaigns/dsf/

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