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Two Canners Won’t Buy Tuna From Nets That Kill Dolphins

April 13, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Three U.S. tuna canners, including the world’s largest, said Thursday they will no longer buy or sell tuna captured along with dolphins. Environmentalists who have long sought to protect dolphins from fishing nets strongly praised the decisions.

The actions were announced by companies selling the StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea brands.

Environmentalists and lawmakers said they hoped the move would save some of the estimated 100,000 dolphins that die annually in huge nets used to catch schools of tuna.

″StarKist will not purchase any tuna caught in association with dolphins,″ said Anthony J.F. O’Reilly, president of the H.J. Heinz Co., which owns the StarKist Seafood Co.

″StarKist will sell only dolphin-free tuna,″ he said at a news conference.

The change could cost consumers ″a couple or more cents″ per can, O’Reilly said, adding that he hoped sales would increase with the announcement and that some increased costs ″will be compensated by increased volume.″

StarKist has a 35 percent share of the U.S. tuna market and is the world’s largest tuna canner.

San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafoods Inc. followed suit a few hours later, saying it ″would now implement its plan to end the purchase of tuna caught in association with dolphin.″

″Our tuna cans will begin to reflect the dolphin-safe label in U.S. stores within the next three months,″ the statement said.

Van Kamp Seafood of St. Louis, seller of Chicken of the Sea brand, said it would ″discontinue buying tuna caught in association with dolphins,″ according to a statement from Jose E. Munoz Jr., company president.

″To do this, we are asking our few existing contract vessels to relocate their operations to the western Pacific, where the dolphin mortality problem does not exist,″ Munoz said.

Leslie Scheele of Greenpeace, which backs a worldwide boycott of tuna caught with nets, called the announcements ″without a doubt one of the biggest steps that could be taken in order to preserve dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific in probably the last 20-30 years.″

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who is sponsoring legislation to require canners to label tuna that is caught by nets that ensnare dolphins, said the announcement made StarKist ″not only the largest but the most enlightened tuna canner in the world.″

″Now Charlie the Tuna has a reason to smile,″ said Rep. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., author of the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act of 1990 in a statement read by Biden. Charlie the Tuna is an animated character used in StarKist tuna advertisements.

But the American Tunaboat Association said the new policy was merely a political response that threatened to destroy the U.S. tuna fleet, reduce tuna stock and do little to help save dolphin lives.

″Foreign boats, which operate free of stringent U.S. quota, will simply sell their catch to a growing European market and elsewhere,″ said August Felando, association president.

″U.S. boats, which have pioneered and continue to lead in developing technology and techniques for porpoise rescue, will be forced to other fisheries, or even go out of business,″ he added. Although the new policy was aimed at purse seine net fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, StarKist said the company also would continue to refuse to buy fish caught anywhere with gill or drift nets.

The Eastern Pacific is the only fishery where dolphins swim with tuna. There purse seine nets are intentionally dropped below schools of dolphins to capture the tuna underneath when a drawstring is pulled to close the net.

Gill or driftnets are set on the water overnight and trap anything - fish, birds and other marine life that enters the area covered by the net.

StarKist President Keith Hauge said the company would require its suppliers to have observers on their vessels to certify the dolphins are not caught with tuna.

He said the company would offer assistance in finding financial backing for fishermen who want to halt net fishing and refit boats to move to other waters.

Experts say most of the world’s tuna is caught in purse seine nets without snaring dolphins. Ten percent is caught by using driftnets or encircling dolphins in purse seine nets.

The United Nations General Assembly last year unanimously voted for an end to driftnet fishing in the South Pacific in 1991 and a global ban a year later.

International fishing fleets began using the huge nets, which stretch up to 30 miles, to catch tuna in the 1950s. About 2 million tons of tuna are caught worldwide each year.

Environmentalists say about 100,000 dolphins are trapped and killed each year because the dolphins, for reasons no one has been able to explain, swim where tuna swim.

The United States is the only country that regulates dolphin mortality in connection with fishing, with a maximum of about 20,000 deaths allowed. All U.S.-flagged vessels have observers on board to verify the number of deaths.

Environmental and consumer groups last year began a nationwide boycott of tuna imported from countries whose fleets use nets and called for an international ban on the practice.

The boycott has had no substantial financial impact on his company, O’Reilly said, but was ″an educational process.″

The dolphin-free policy would apply to tuna sold by StarKist as food for people or pets.

″This will represent the most significant step for dolphin conservation since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act″ in 1972, said David Phillips, director of the Earth Island Institute, an environmental group.

Biden said he hoped the announcement would encourage other companies and U.S. trading partners to move toward a worldwide ban of net fishing for tuna.

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