Dolphin-friendly label ‘misleads consumers’
Labels stating that tuna is “dolphin-friendly” are misleading consumers into believing that the fish they are eating has been caught using environmentally friendly techniques, campaigners say.
The labels indicate only that the fishing methods employed to catch the tuna have avoided the incidental killing of any dolphins. The certification system fails to assess any other measure of sustainability.
Although dolphins have been afforded a degree of protection from tuna fleets, other marine creatures are still commonly caught and killed as bycatch from tuna fishing, particularly rare turtles and sharks.
Moreover, tuna are being fished out of existence because they are being caught in unsustainable numbers, according to a Greenpeace report, Tinned Tuna’s Hidden Catch, which calls for dolphin-friendly standards to be extended to other marine species.
The use of fish aggregation devices and purse seine nets (lures and a wall of netting that encircles a school of fish) comes in for special condemnation because of the quantity of bycatch and the number of juvenile tuna that get caught and killed. Ten per cent of the fish caught using the technique are unwanted bycatch, amounting to at least 100,000 tonnes around the world annually.
Conservationists recognise the positive effect that the dolphin-friendly labels had but believe that consumers need more information to judge which types of tuna are harvested sustainably. In Britain the fish is most commonly sold in tins and the assessment by Greenpeace of some of the main brands shows that Sainsbury, followed by the Coop, offers the most sustainable canned tuna. John West and Princes were judged to be the least sustainable, largely because of their reliance on aggregation devices and purse seine nets.
Dolphin-friendly labels were a success because of their simplicity (Frank Pope, Oceans Correspondent, writes). If the tin had the stamp, you could eat the contents. Trying to eat fish that is not threatened with population collapse isn’t so easy. We need a new form of certification to help consumers to choose sustainable seafood.
A worldwide network of marine protected areas – where all fishing is banned – would give fishermen a simple rule: either you can fish here or you cannot. Even trawlers, the most destructive form of fishing, could win a sustainable seafood label if they could prove that they had not ploughed the seabed in a protected zone.
Dolphin-friendly labelling has shown that consumer choice can stop destructive fishermen. Now we need a simple sticker that says good or bad, not just for dolphins but for all life that depends on the sea.
Fishing for change
— Of the 23 commercially exploited tuna stocks, nine are rated as endangered or worse, three of which are considered vulnerable to being exhausted
— 70 per cent of tuna fishing is done using fish aggregation devices, which lure tuna to gather under a platform. From there they can be caught in huge nets called purse seines
— A tenth of everything caught in this way is unwanted bycatch
There are various dolphin safe labels used for canned tuna to show that the fish has been caught without harming or killing dolphins. However, because there are various labels used, there are also various different restrictions imposed on the capture of tuna in order for it to deserve the related dolphin safe label, some labels imposing stricter requirements than others.
According the US Consumers Union, there is no guarantee that dolphins have not been harmed, despite the various labels. This is because there is no universal and independent verification of the dolphin-friendly claims, by observers, for example, who board fishing boats or make surprise visits to canneries to inspect captains' logs. However, some labels do require such verification.
In a report released by Greenpeace in 2008, it is noted that the dolphin safe labels may make consumers believe that canned tuna with a dolphin safe label is also environmentally friendly in general, while these labels only cover the by-catch of dolphins and not that of other species, the sustainability of the hunt itself or the environmental impact of it.
Dolphins are a common bycatch in tuna fisheries, especially in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, as dolphins in this area can often be found swimming together with schools of tuna, specifically yellowfin tuna. Not only do the dolphins end up as accidental bycatch, the dolphins themselves may also be used as a way to find the tuna as they are easier to spot, this also because the dolphins usually swim closer to the surface. The dolphins are then sometimes knowingly being netted together with the fish.
Skipjack tuna do not associate with dolphins, and so is most likely to be truly "dolphin safe". The species of tuna is not always mentioned on the can.
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