Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. IX No. 3 - July 2000
Update on Tuna/Dolphin
By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board
In April, as noted in the last edition of Whales Alive!, several US groups won a court case that they had filed against the US government, arguing that recent changes in the definition of the dolphin safe label were illegal; the groups contend that the government is unable to conclusively prove that the act of encircling dolphins with tuna nets has had no negative impact on dolphin populations in the eastern Pacific. On May 17th, the US government appealed this decision, and the dolphin safe definition remains a hotly contested issue.
However, one of the biggest concerns raised by the various groups, that of the potential mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-unsafe tuna in boat wells has now been put to rest. At its annual meeting in June, the member nations of the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP) passed a resolution, unanimously agreeing to end the possible mixing of tuna in wells.
The same meeting also heard evidence that the number of dolphin deaths in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) tuna fishery continues to fall; current tallies put the annual mortality figure at less than 1500 animals for 1999. Additional concerns that had been raised by environmental groups revolved around the fact that under the AIDCP, governments are allowed to field up to 50% national observer coverage on board their purse seine vessels, as opposed to using international observers from the IATTC (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission).
Certain groups questioned the fact that the national and international programmes could be being managed in different ways, thus leading to different statistical results on dolphin protections. The meeting, held in San Jose, Costa Rica, agreed to an analysis of the different observer programmes, with an aim to ensuring that the same methodologies in data collection and reporting are used.
The IATTC also passed a strong resolution on bycatch of other species in the EPO, requiring fishermen on purse seine vessels to promptly release unharmed, to the extent practicable, all sea turtles, sharks, billfishes, rays, mahimahi and other non-target species. The resolution is particularly strong for sea turtles, in that it mandates fishers to "develop and use techniques and equipment to facilitate the rapid and safe release of any such animals", and, if a sea turtle is sighted in their nets, to stop "net roll ... as soon as the sea turtle comes out of the water and ... not start again until the turtle has been disentangled and released." If a turtle is brought aboard the vessel, the new resolution requires that it should, if necessary, be resuscitated before being returned to the water.
The resolution also put in place strong language calling on the governments fishing in the EPO to reduce "to the maximum extent practicable" the bycatch of juvenile tunas and other non-target species.
As a proponent of an open and transparent process in international decision making having to do with environmental issues (having opposed secret ballots at both the IWC and CITES and having worked for increased participation by environmental groups in international treaties), CSI is pleased to note the IATTC made strong steps forward in dealing with attempts to enforce its management and conservation measures.
The IATTC has now established a Permanent Working Group on Compliance that is fully open to environmental delegates. NGO observers can attend the meetings of the Working Group, can have timely access to all information provided to the group, and can speak out on issues of concern to them. Such a decision makes the IATTC one of the most ground-breaking international fisheries organizations in the world, and should serve as a precedent for other international marine resource management fora.
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