The following article appeared in the Usenet newsgroup alt.mexico on 3/13/97:
(San Francisco) David Phillips, Executive Director of Earth Island
Institute, today blasted last month's Inter-American Tropical Tuna
Commission (IATTC) meeting in Santa Marta, Colombia, for the continuing
failure to protect dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other species.
"Mexico indicated it would now withhold required information on their tuna fleets' violations of IATTC rules," Phillips said and noted that Mexico also "suspended" their participation in the efforts to protect dolphins under the Commission's La Jolla Agreement last October. Phillips stated: "Mexico is attempting to hold the U.S. Congress hostage, dropping out of IATTC programs unless U.S. dolphin protection laws are eviscerated."
Participating member nations of the La Jolla Agreement are required to provide regular data to the IATTC about their tuna fleets' infractions, including using seal bombs to herd dolphins, setting nets on dolphins at sunset (when light conditions make release of entangled dolphins much harder), and failing to carry dolphin-saving equipment on board tuna vessels. Mexico operates the largest tuna fleet in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP).
Last year, passage of legislation, H.R.2823 and S.1420, dubbed by environmentalists the "Dolphin Death Act", was blocked in the U.S. Senate by a coalition of more than 85 environmental, trade, labor, and animal welfare organizations. Mexico had sought the legislation, backed by an international scheme among tuna fishing nations known as the Panama Declaration, to lift the U.S. embargo against their tuna (caught by methods that chase, net and drown thousands of dolphins annually in purse seine nets). The proposed legislation would also weaken the U.S. definition of "dolphin safe" tuna to allow dolphins to be chased, harassed, injured and captured by the deadly mile-long nets, as long as no dolphins were "observed" to die outright.
Mexico further threatened to bypass the U.S. Congress and take their case to the World Trade Organization, which can impose sanctions against United States' laws deemed barriers to free trade. Over 7 million dolphins have been killed by the ETP tuna fishery since the late 1950's.
At the recent meeting in Colombia, the IATTC took no action on Mexico's reneging on their previous international pledge to abide by IATTC rules. Instead, resolutions were passed condemning the U.S. dolphin-safe program and urging the Clinton Administration to ensure "prompt enactment" of the Dolphin Death Act. (See attached "Consensus of Santa Marta"). Representatives of the Clinton Administration also signed the request to weaken U.S. dolphin protection laws.
The IATTC also failed to take any action to reduce bycatch, instead allowing such destructive fishing to continue in order to put further pressure on the U.S. to accept dolphin-deadly tuna. The Commission repeated assertions that only by targeting and killing dolphins may ecosystem "damage" be avoided. However, the Commission's own studies reveal that tuna stocks are healthy. Meanwhile, dolphin populations continue to show no signs of recovery, despite reduction in reported "observed" dolphin deaths in tuna nets.
Phillips explained: "The IATTC is dominated by tuna fishing industries, whose primary interest is catching as much tuna as possible. Their professed concern for dolphins and nontarget fish is little more than window-dressing.
"We will not allow a weakening of U.S. dolphin protection laws," Phillips said. "Mexico and the IATTC nations must understand that the U.S. Congress should not and will not sacrifice our dolphin-safe tuna program just so Mexico can find markets for its dolphin-deadly product.
"Many tuna fishermen are fishing in a dolphin-safe manner and protect other marine species as well. Mexico could do far more good for its own fishing fleets by working with us, instead of fighting the inevitable," Phillips concluded.
The Dolphin Death Act has been reintroduced this session of Congress as H.R.408 and S.39. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), backed by a number of Democratic and Republican Senators, has vowed to again filibuster to prevent passage of the Dolphin Death Act unless the bill is amended to retain the current strong definition of "dolphin safe".
***** Earth Island Institute is a nonprofit environmental organization that has worked on the dolphin issue since 1988. The International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute protects dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals around the world. VIDEO AVAILABLE: Broadcast quality video is available of wild dolphins and the lethal effects of tuna nets.
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 12, 1997
Mark J. Palmer firstname.lastname@example.org (415) 788-3666
Samuel LaBudde (415) 921-3140
Earth Island Institute