Tuna Bill Sweeps Senate

Tuna Bill Sweeps Senate

International Dolphin Conservation Program Act signed into law

By: Teresa Platt  Date: 01/10/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Wildlife Journal |



After lengthy negotiations brought all but the most extreme into agreement, the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA) swept the United States Senate on July 30 by a vote of 99-0 and was signed into law during August by President Clinton.

Groups such as Alliance for America, Center for Marine Conservation, Defenders of Property Rights, Greenpeace, National Animal Interest Alliance, People for the West!, Seafarers International Union, World Wildlife Fund and over a hundred resource, property rights, conservation groups and unions worked alongside the governments of twelve countries to pass the bill. The "loyal opposition" included Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, PETA and a host of animal rights, preservationist, and anti-free trade groups.

The Clinton administration strongly supported passage of the bill with Vice President Al Gore and Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth becoming highly visible proponents. Key Republicans took active interest in the legislation with Senator John McCain and Congressman Don Young, chairs of the involved Committees, active sponsors. Senator Stevens of Alaska felt so strongly about the importance of the IDCPA that he reserved the number "S39" for its introduction into the Senate. S39 was the number of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the prevailing fisheries management law for the country which was re-authorized in the previous session of Congress.

Although many representatives worked tirelessly on the legislation, several are worthy of note: Congressmen Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ), who serve on the House Resources Committee; Congressmen Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) whose districts include the San Diego waterfront; and Senators John Breaux (D-LA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Kerry D-MA) who serve on the Senate Oceans and Fisheries subcommittee.


Trade barriers lifted

The IDCPA lifts embargoes on fish produced under the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission's management program, replacing the US's current uni-lateral, World Trade Organization (WTO)-illegal embargoes with stronger, multi-lateral clout. The original embargoes were triggered by the US Marine Mammal Protection Acts "comparability standard," but after the US passed laws so burdensome that her entire fleet abandoned the eastern Pacific, the comparability standard become a virtual zero. More than 20 countries were caught up in primary and secondary embargoes resulting in a trade fiasco and two General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) rulings against the US.

The IDCPA also removes the "dolphin safe"-only market which has existed in the US since 1992. Tuna caught by all legal methods will be allowed into the market regardless of eco-labeling, allowing the consumer to choose which label to buy.


Dolphin safe changes

Additionally, the bill starts a process to change the present "dolphin safe" eco-label, which was defined by federal law in 1990 as tuna caught with no encirclement of dolphins during the entire fishing trip. Resulting in a lack of flexibility for fishermen making decisions on how to fish set-by-set, the "dolphin safe" label was declared environmentally unsound when it resulted in staggering increases in bycatch of sharks, billfish, small tunas and turtles as fishermen attempted to meet the definition by harvesting juvenile yellowfin tunas schooling in the fishery's nursery areas.

Many fishermen simply abandoned the area, moving thousands of miles away to the western Pacific's skipjack fishery since skipjack are rarely found with dolphins. This resulted in a poorer pack of tuna and the consumer reacted by eating less tuna, which, in turn, hurt fishermen with lower prices for their fish. The US fleet was reduced by half and the Mexican and Latin fleets also suffered greatly. Several canneries in developing countries closed their doors and it is estimated that tens of thousands of jobs were lost. All because the US pushed for a zero tolerance impact on one creature, even after the fleet had worked hard to bring their impact on dolphins during fishing far below what is experienced by many other fishermen in US waters as they interact with marine mammals, from whales and dolphins to seals and otters, using a variety of gear types.

All this insanity will change. The new label will allow yellowfin tuna caught in association with dolphins to be labeled "dolphin safe" set by set, as long as all the involved dolphins are released unharmed during the fishing process. Changes in the label are delayed until March 1999 when the US government's National Marine Fisheries Service reports on studies on the health of the dolphin populations in the eastern Pacific. If the populations are stable or increasing, then it will be determined that the "encirclement and release" method used by the international purse seine fleet for more than 30 years is not impacting the stocks and is therefore "dolphin safe."


Ecosystem management

The IDCPA codifies into US law an agreement reached by the 12 tuna fishing countries of the eastern Pacific to further reduce bycatch in the fishery. Although the most visible components of the agreement involve the charismatic dolphin, the IDCPA goes far beyond dolphin protection in its continued commitment to 100 percent observer coverage on the international fleet, gear and training requirements for fishermen, shared bycatch quotas for marine mammals and new commitments to reduce bycatch of sharks, billfish, tuna and other creatures impacted in the area.

The IDCPA is the first multi-national attempt at "ecosystem management" at sea and whether it works or not depends on the validity of the science. The fishery is managed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), an independent research center which makes recommendations to the involved countries on management options. Established by treaty in 1949 and located in La Jolla, California, the IATTC is a luxury the eastern Pacific is lucky to have. Few international fisheries have an independent staff of scientists to provide the information required to make management decisions.


Bottom line

Bottom line: Is this good for the fishery, fishermen and consumers? Emphatically, yes, as the new law removes barriers to legally produced fish and eliminates the zero tolerance/single-species approach to management. The reopening of the eastern Pacific will result in more options for fishermen, an improved product for consumers, a stronger "dolphin safe" label, increased protection for marine mammals and, finally, a renewed effort to study the ocean and its inhabitants while respecting the human members of this unique fishing community.

Members of The Fishermen's Coalition extend their special thanks to NAIA members who worked hard to inform their representatives of the importance of balanced fisheries legislation. The fishermen could not have done it without you! Remember to thank your representatives for voting for a healthy fishery while protecting fishermen's jobs.

About The Author

Teresa Platt's photo
Teresa Platt - NAIA Board Member

Member/Volunteer/Partner/Article Writer of the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Teresa Platt |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us



blog comments powered by Disqus