Dolphin-safe may be on borrowed time

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1996:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Motion to implement
the October 4 Declaration of Panama, rolling back U.S.
dolphin-safe tuna standards, commenced with the
November 29 introduction of S 1420, the International
Dolphin Conservation Program Act, by Senators Ted
Stevens and Frank Murkowski (both R-Alaska) and John
Breaux (D-Louisiana).
Favored by the Clinton administration, S 1420
would replace the U.S. ban on imports of tuna netted on
dolphin with a rule allowing the import of tuna caught on
dolphin if no dolphin deaths were seen during the operation,
and would allow the incidental deaths of 5,000 dolphins
a year. The Declaration was signed by all the major
Pacific tuna-fishing nations, and was endorsed by the
Center for Marine Conservation, Environmental Defense
Fund, Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation, and
the World Wildlife Fund, all of which favor “sustainable
use” wildlife management.

Opposing the Declaration of Panama and S 1420,
are the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Earth Island
Institute, and most other major animal protection groups.
Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Joseph
Biden of Delaware, authors of the 1990 law creating the
dolphin-safe tuna standard, on December 7 introduced a
bill they claim would implement the Declaration of Panama
without allowing netting “on dolphin.” California
Representative George Miller introduced a House companion
bill. All are Democrats.
Defending the Declaration, Inter-American
Tropical Tuna Commission director James Joseph argues
that dolphin mortality from netting “on dolphin” is down
97% since 1986, including a decline of 96% in mortality
per set. “Improved performance, rather than the dolphinsafe
policy, has been the major cause of the drop,” according
to Joseph, who says the number of sets “on dolphin” is
down only 27% over the same period. Joseph also holds
that netting “on dolphin” produces less bycatch and therefore
harms other species less than the alternative methods,
“log sets” and “school sets.” Declining bycatch could,
however, reflect declining marine populations, rather than
more careful fishing.
Most observers cite as impetus to the Declaration
of Panama the conflict between the U.S. dolphin-safe stan
dard and the ban on restraint of trade based on so-called
“process standards” imposed by the General Agreement on
Trade and Tariffs. A GATT tribunal found the U.S. dolphin-safe
standard in violation in October 1991.
Heinz vs. Heinz
Syndicated columnist Alexander Cockburn
offered a further explanation, however, on December 1,
pointing to the clout of Teresa Heinz, heir to $670 to $740
million, vice chair of the Environmental Defense Fund,
confidante of Undersecretary of State for Environmental
Affairs Tim Wirth, widow of the late Senator John Heinz,
and wife of Senator John Kerry. Wrote Cockburn, “Heinz
Corporation subsidiary Star-Kist is the world’s largest tuna
processor. Having invested millions in dolphin-safe fishing
fleets and having mined excellent publicity, Star-Kist is
loath to see the dolphin-safe law changed. Nonetheless,
Teresa, one of the Heinz Corporation’s largest stockholders,
is pressing hard for Star-Kist to reverse its stance.”
Cockburn predicted that the Clinton administration
would try “to sneak the dolphin death bill through as a
rider to the Magnuson Act, due to be voted on before the
Christmas recess,” but the budget impasse with Congress
put the Magnuson Act reauthorization on hold.

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