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[Update: this bill passed and was signed into law. The press release below was issued before it was signed into law—DEA.]

June 6, 1996
CONTACT: Joan Moody (JMoody@Defenders.org) 202-682-9400
CONTACT: Bill Snape (BSnape@defenders.org) 202-682-9400

70 Conservation Groups Warn Trade Politics Endanger Dolphins:


Washington, D.C: Environmentalists are disappointed by today's decision in the Senate Commerce Committee to quickly pass without any debate a bill that would weaken standards for labeling tuna cans "dolphin-safe" and thus result in dolphin deaths. The result of today's Senate markup resembles action last month in the House, which has already passed its dolphin-deadly bill through committee and is awaiting floor action.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "The senators' lack of interest in dolphin protection, as evidenced by today's speedy passage of a dolphin-deadly bill without debate, is appalling. Protection of dolphins is an issue of extreme importance to the American public and yet the senators were unwilling to even debate it. Instead they caved in to special interests and trade politics."

Defenders of Wildlife and other members of a coalition of more than 70 other groups adamantly oppose weakening the standard, as proposed in S. 1420, sponsored by Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Island Institute, and others led the effort to pass the law that provides U. S. consumers with a notice on tuna cans about whether the tuna has been caught without endangering dolphins. However, S. 1420 changes the current definition of the "dolphin-safe" label to allow into the market tuna that was caught by methods that encircle, harass, and chase dolphins in order to catch accompanying tuna, as long as no "observed" dolphin deaths occur. Most conservation groups believe that trade politics — not dolphin protection — represent the main concern behind the issue because the Stevens/Breaux bill was written in response to Mexican demands. Mexico has pressured for a change in U.S. tuna-dolphin policy after an international tribunal ruled that current U.S. law is inconsistent with General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) standards.

Defenders and its coalition support S. 1460, legislation sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D- CA) and Joe Biden (D-DE) that would retain the present dolphin-safe standard but would change the current law's trade provisions to create an incentive for responsible foreign tuna fishers to practice dolphin-safe methods. The Boxer/Biden bill would be consistent with both NAFTA and the GATT/WTO requirements. In addition, Senators Bob Smith (R-NH) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) have joined Boxer-Biden in a bipartisan letter of support for the present definition of "dolphin-safe" tuna.

The Stevens/Breaux bill would implement an international agreement, known as the Declaration of Panama, which was signed last October by the United States, Mexico, and nine other countries. The Declaration of Panama necessitates a weakening in U.S. dolphin protection laws including the Dolphin Consumer Protection Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"The American public has been successfully kept ignorant of the fact that their hard-fought dolphin protection laws are being traded away for nothing in return," says William Snape, Defenders' Legal Director. "S. 1420 would dismantle one of the most popular labeling programs ever, ignoring the concerns of hundreds of thousands of school children and others in the American public whose demands for an end to dolphin killing led to the current legislation," he warns.

The Stevens/Breaux bill's definition of "dolphin- safe" ignores the various harmful effects of chasing and encircling dolphins with nets and the fact that many dolphins die in the nets unobserved.

Current U.S. law allows tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) to set nets on schools of tuna not accompanied by dolphins and on floating objects such as logs to avoid setting nets on dolphins. S. 1420 advocates a return to the setting of nets on dolphins, arguing that other methods result in high mortality levels of other species like sea turtles and juvenile tuna.

However, the federal government's own scientists have admitted that unacceptable levels of sea turtle bycatch are a result of fishermen killing for food, and that the tuna population has not been significantly depleted as a result of juvenile tuna being caught.

Defenders of Wildlife is a nonprofit organization with more than 130,000 members nationwide.

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