The U.S. “dolphin safe” standard accepts the use of FADs at the expense of sharks, sea turtles, and many other marine species
BERKELEY, OAKLAND––“FADs are bad,” says dolphin defender Ric O’Barry.
By FADs, O’Barry means a fishing method so deadly that he believes it makes a travesty of “dolphin safe” tuna labeling. The U.S. “dolphin safe” standard accepts the use of FADs at the expense of sharks, sea turtles, and many other marine species, many of them part of the dolphin food web.
O’Barry vowed decades ago never to accept funding from either the dolphin captivity industry or the tuna industry, long the leading killer of dolphins worldwide. For that reason, O’Barry on September 30, 2014 left the fundraising umbrella of the Earth Island Institute after an eight-year partnership which, for a time, had seemed as natural as the tendency of tuna to swim with dolphins.
Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, O’Barry’s new umbrella, no longer has anything to do with the Dolphin Project operating under the auspices of the Earth Island Institute’s Marine Mammal Project.
Now O’Barry is trying to make the distinction clear to donors and supporters. Most of all, though, O’Barry emphasized to ANIMALS 24-7 in a mid-December series of calls and e-mails, he is trying to explain why FADs are in his view so bad as to warrant parting company with the “dolphin-safe” cause, at cost of his salary, health insurance, life insurance, and all other economic security at the age of 75, with a family including a 10-year-old child, and mortgages to pay.
Former “Flipper” trainer O’Barry has been synonymous with opposition to dolphin captivity since Earth Day 1970, when O’Barry tried unsuccessfully to free a dolphin named Charlie Brown from the Lerner Marine Laboratory in Bimini, the Bahamas.
Christmas in Taiji
At this writing, just before Christmas 2014, O’Barry is in Taiji, Japan, campaigning for the 11th consecutive year against “drive fishing” massacres of dolphins. The dolphins are chased into the bay made infamous by the 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, and hacked to death en massé mostly to capture a relatively small number of young, healthy dolphins for sale to aquariums.
“It’s hell,” O’Barry told ANIMALS 24-7. “I haven’t slept in three days. I hoped to fly out of here to be home with my family for Christmas, but my relief observer won’t get here until the middle of January.”
Earth Island & “Dolphin safe”
Earth Island Institute has been synonymous with campaigning for “dolphin-safe” tuna since shortly before Earth Day 1990, when Earth Island released video by undercover investigator Sam LaBudde showing the carnage resulting from netting tuna “on dolphin.”
The method works because yellowfin tuna tend to swim below pods of dolphins, probably following the same schools of the smaller fish that both tuna and dolphins consume as prey. Surrounding dolphins with purse seines captures tons of tuna per “set,” at cost of drowning dozens of dolphin who became entangled in the nets.
LaBudde’s video “was given to network television and shown to Congress,” recounted Earth Island Institute historian Tom Turner in 2008, describing the campaign for which the organization is still best known. “It caused immediate outrage. A boycott of tuna was launched. A lawsuit was filed that resulted in court orders to slow the killing. Finally, in 1990, Starkist Tuna, the largest tuna company in the world, announced it would go ‘dolphin safe.’ Other tuna companies quickly fell into line. The slaughter of Pacific dolphins that once killed 150,000 animals annually now takes about 1,000.”
Earth Island Institute is structured as an incubator for animal and habitat protection projects, many of which eventually spin off as independent charities. Earth Island Institute founder David Brower (1912-2000), had headed the Sierra Club from 1952 to 1969, and in 1969 founded Friends of the Earth. Starting Earth Island Institute in 1986 was Brower’s last major initiative. Initially headquartered in San Francisco, not far from the Sierra Club headquarters, Earth Island Institute later moved across San Francisco Bay to Berkeley, Brower’s home town.
The Marine Mammal Project, including the original Dolphin Project incorporated by O’Barry in 1982, is among more than 60 semi-autonomous organizations currently operating under the Earth Island Institute umbrella. O’Barry strongly praises and endorses many of them, including the Plastic Pollution Coalition and Project Coyote.
The Dolphin Project previously operated for about 10 years in partnership with the World Society for the Protection of Animals, now called World Animal Protection, and then for three years with the French animal charity One Voice. Neither WSPA nor One Voice, however, was organized in a manner conducive to coordinating campaigns with quasi-autonomous subsidiaries, and neither had longtime involvement in marine mammal issues comparable to that of Earth Island Institute.
For about seven years O’Barry appeared to be comfortable partnering with Earth Island Institute, despite several longstanding philosophical differences with Marine Mammal Project and Earth Island Institute executive director David Phillips.
One point of disagreement was over the suitability for release of the captive orca Keiko, star of the 1993 hit film Free Willy! and sequels. Phillips was cofounder of the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, an Earth Island Institute spin-off, leading the effort that spent more than $20 million over 11 years to try to return Keiko to the wild.
Released at last in August 2002, Keiko swam to Skaalvik Fjord, Norway, 250 miles northwest of Oslo, where he lived for 17 months, receiving frequent fish handouts from admirers, until his death from pneumonia in December 2003.
O’Barry, who has released more former captive dolphins successfully than any other individual, warned all along that Keiko had probably lived in oceanariums for too many years and had become too dependent on human companionship to be considered a good release candidate.
O’Barry’s biggest disagreement with Phillips, however, concerned Earth Island Institute’s signature “dolphin free” tuna campaign. Along with many other longtime observers of the fishing industry, O’Barry was uncomfortable all along with the reliance of the “dolphin free” agreements on self-policing by participating tuna fishing companies. Even more, O’Barry was increasingly concerned by the transition of the yellowfin tuna fishing industry from netting “on dolphin” to using “log sets,” which evolved into FADS, short for “Fish-Aggregating Devices.”
Yellowfin & bluefin
The two major tuna species hunted for human consumption are yellowfin and bluefin. Bluefin are most often caught by longlines, or miles-long strings of baited hooks supported by drifting floats. As of 2005, when the international bluefin industry is believed to have killed about 50,000 bluefin tuna, nearly double the world quota of 32,000, longliners also killed as many as 450,000 blue sharks, along with other by-catch including sea turtles and albatross.
Though still hunted in some waters, bluefin are now internationally recognized as “endangered” or even “critically endangered” in most of their habitat.
The tuna industry has accordingly focused more and more on catching yellowfin, by netting “on dolphin,” by trying to follow and net whole schools of yellowfin using other methods to locate them, and by using “log sets,” the most successful method before the advent of FADs.
“Log sets” take advantage of the tendency of fish to gather beneath floating logs or other debris. Finding a promising cluster of floating objects, “log set” fishers surround the floating objects with nets.
FADs take “log sets” several steps in sophistication farther.
What’s a FAD?
Explains Wikipedia, “A FAD is a man-made object used to attract ocean-going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs…Fish are fascinated with floating objects. They aggregate around objects such as drifting flotsam, rafts, jellyfish and floating seaweed,” which “offer some protection for juvenile fish from predators,” but in turn attract predators to the vicinity.
“Drifting FADs are widespread in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian ocean purse seine fisheries,” the Wikipedia entry continues. “They catch over one million tons of tuna per year, nearly a third of the global tuna total, and over 100,000 tons of by-catch [fish of no commercial value] as of 2005.”
Defending “dolphin safe” definition
Embracing “dolphin safe” tuna fishing at the expense of other marine species remains the prevailing attitude within animal advocacy. Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, for example, lauded legislation restricting “the import of tuna that is not dolphin safe into the U.S.” as recently as November 21, 2014, without mentioning FADs or the obvious alternative: to just stop eating tuna.
Pacelle had on April 16, 2013 outlined his perspective at greater length. “When I was a kid,” Pacelle recalled, “the first broader animal protection issue that I connected with was the drowning of dolphins in massive tuna nets. I told my mom that I didn’t want to eat tuna if dolphins had to die.
“The ‘dolphin safe’ label promised consumers that the tuna had been caught without deliberately chasing and setting nets on dolphins,” Pacelle continued. “By June 1, 1994, the entire U.S. tuna fleet was ‘dolphin-safe,’ and all tuna in the U.S. had to meet that standard, and be labeled as such. In the mid-1990s, I, along with my colleagues, tried to stop legislation that sought to weaken our well-known and trusted definition of the ‘dolphin-safe’ label. Pressure came from tuna fishing interests outside the U.S., specifically Mexico, which wanted access to the U.S. market and our label while continuing to set nets on dolphins.”
World Wildlife Fund
A General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs panel in 1995 held that the U.S. “dolphin safe” law was an improper trade barrier. That opened the way to re-definition of “dolphin safe” by the U.S. Congress.
The World Wildlife Fund, concerned about increasing by-catch from tuna fishing, aligned itself with the Mexican tuna industry and helped to repeal the original U.S. ‘dolphin safe’ tuna standard in 1997. The old standard was replaced with a standard which would have allowed tuna fishers to kill as many as 5,000 dolphins per year. The new standard would, however, have better protected sharks and sea turtles.
A decade of litigation followed.
“Don’t eat tuna”
Despite the 1997 amendment to the U.S. “dolphin-safe” definition, Pacelle summarized, “The label remained unchanged. We prevailed. But Mexico challenged the U.S. position at the World Trade Organization, claiming that our ‘dolphin-safe’ label was an unfair trade barrier.”
The WTO agreed, Pacelle continued, “stating that it unfairly discriminated against Mexico. However, instead of seeking to dismantle our ‘dolphin-safe’ standards, the Obama administration decided to expand the scope of these standards to all oceans with tuna fisheries and to all countries seeking to import tuna.”
O’Barry––and many others––believe that extending the “dolphin safe” requirement instead of addressing the use of FADs was going in the wrong direction; that what the humane and conservation movements should have done all along, and should still do, is promote the message “Don’t eat tuna” with the same fervor put into campaigns to not wear fur, not buy ivory, and spay/neuter pets.
“Greenwashing & speciesist”
Wrote Jamie Foley, the Oakland-based Skeptical Vegan, in a 2010 blog that O’Barry forwarded to ANIMALS 24-7 as influential in his thinking, “Reliance on FADs has resulted in larger kills of sea turtles, rays, juvenile tuna, and at least several endangered species, and is a large factor in the decline of some shark populations.”
Working from practically next door to Earth Island Institute, Foley called “dolphin-safe” tuna “a horrific example of the failure of greenwashing and a speciesist approach to animal protection.”
The U.S. “dolphin-safe” tuna legislation, Foley pointed out, “applies only to U.S. boats or boats catching tuna to be sold in the U.S.”
Foreign fleets selling to foreign tuna markets continue to net tuna “on dolphin,” Foley said. But FADs “create significantly more non-cetacean by-catch.”
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission is a 21-nation organization established by international treaty to be “responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean,” according to the IATTC charter.
According to IATTC estimates of by-catch per 10,000 sets of purse seine nets, quoted by the Skeptical Vegan, netting schools of immature yellowfin tuna kill on average 2.4 million small tuna; 12,220 sharks; 1,440 billfish; 2,100 mahi mahi; 580 sea turtles; 530 wahoo; 270 rainbow runners; 1, 010 other small fish; and eight dolphins.
FADs kill orders of magnitude more, and kill significant numbers of species who are mostly unaffected by school netting. The FAD toll per 10,000 purse seine sets includes 130 million small tuna; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6,540 billfish; 2,980 yellowtail; 1,020 sea turtles; 200 other large fish; 50 triggerfish, and 25 dolphins.
Netting “on dolphin” by contrast kills 4,000 dolphins; 70,000 small tuna; 100 mahi mahi; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; only three small fish; and 100 sea turtles.
Skeptical Vegan’s conclusion
“No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish,” noted Foley, with “dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”
Concluded Foley, “While some conservationists’ response to this [would be] to return to the fishing method of encircling dolphins, the anti-speciesist response would recognize that fishing is inherently cruel and stop altogether.”
Some of the arguments voiced in 2010 by the Skeptical Vegan were embraced and amplified in February 2014 by the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, representing a very different perspective.
Mexican tuna fishers
“Among the principal backers of the Campaign,” the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna acknowledges, “are the companies that comprise Mexico’s tuna fleet…Another principal sponsor of the Campaign is the Organizacion Latinoamericana de Desarrollo Pesquero, an organization made up of the fisheries ministers or state secretaries with responsibility for fisheries in the twelve fishing nations that are members.”
These are representatives of the same entities that fought against “dolphin safe” labeling all along, whose practices LaBudde exposed.
Alleged the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna on February 25, 2014,
“Earth Island Institute is once again exploiting dolphins to bolster their public image. Their latest misdirection campaign is called The Dolphin Project.
“The Dolphin Project’s stated purpose is ‘to stop dolphin slaughter and exploitation around the world,’” the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna continued. “However, as a subsidiary of Earth Island, the Dolphin Project is a strong advocate of the increasingly controversial ‘dolphin-safe’ label. So while they pay lip service to the principles of marine conservation, their actions tell a different story.”
Concluded the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, “With the strong economic incentive for captains to lie about by-catch, and no real mechanism to identify or punish violators, the ‘dolphin-safe’ label fails to protect even the one animal it claims to defend.”
“Not even for the cats”
Said O’Barry, “What else could I do but resign? My Dolphin Project was being trashed for something I do not support. I had to quit Earth Island Institute and set the record straight. I never supported ‘dolphin-safe.’ We do not bring cans of tuna into our household––not even for the cats.”
Particularly haunting to O’Barry, he told ANIMALS 24-7, was the possibility that donations from the U.S. tuna fishing industry, funneled through Earth Island Institute, might have helped to pay his salary and benefits.
O’Barry said he had asked David Phillips if this had occurred, but did not receive a direct answer.
Earth Island Institute did not respond to an ANIMALS 24-7 inquiry.
Seeking wisdom in the Solomons
While keeping vigil in Taiji and trying to rebuild his organization, O’Barry mentioned to ANIMALS 24-7 his hope of soon raising funds enough to return to the Solomon Islands to address yet another ethically challenging situation.
Dolphin hunters in the Solomons, dolphin broker Christopher Porter, and some far-right U.S. news media blamed Earth Island Institute for the massacre of more than 1,000 dolphins in December 2012 and January 2013.
Coverage by the Solomon Star News, however, supported the Earth Island Institute contention that the dolphin hunters just got greedy, after three years of in effect holding dolphins for ransom.
Honoring a deal brokered by O’Barry in 2010, Earth Island Institute over the next year and a half issued $98,000 in grants meant to help dolphin hunters to develop new ways to make a living, but suspended the grant-making in April 2012––as required by U.S. law governing foreign grant-making by U.S. charities––after becoming aware that the money was not being distributed as intended.
An overt dolphins-for-ransom scheme followed. Dolphin captures for sale resumed, and then dolphin killing on an apparently unprecedented scale, after Western Province premier George Solingi Lilo warned that any further attempts to hold dolphins for ransom would be prosecuted.
“Earth Island Institute failed to pay $237,000, the remaining part of the $335,000 it had promised to compensate the people of Fanalei and Walande for refraining from their traditional hunting and killing of dolphins for a period of two years,” the Fanalei Honiara Based Association charged in a prepared statement.
Responded Earth Island Institute Marine Mammal Project director David Phillips, “A major portion of the funding we provided to Fanalei was misappropriated by a renegade group who ignored all requests for accounting for the funds and undertook a mass dolphin kill in the mistaken view that it would get them more funding.”
Continued Phillips, “Dolphin traders stand to make millions by continuing the cruel capture and trade in live dolphins. Supporting the tribal slaughter gives them cover, and provides a way to get villagers to capture dolphins for them. Traffickers including Canadian citizen Christopher Porter and Solomon Islands resident Robert Satu have a long history of bankrolling village captures of dolphins who sell for up to $150,000 to facilities in China, Singapore, Mexico, and Dubai.”
Employed by Sealand of the Pacific, in Victoria, British Columbia, 1989-1993, Porter moved to the Vancouver Aquarium in 1994, after Sealand closed, and then to the Aquario di Genova in Italy. Porter and Satu incorporated Marine Exports Limited in 2002 to broker dolphins captured in the Solomons.
Porter and Satu captured about 220 dolphins in the Solomons through 2007, 83 of whom were eventually sold to resorts in Dubai and Cancun, Mexico. Pending sale, the dolphins were kept in heavily guarded sea pens at Fanalei.
Porter in March 2010 told Judith Lavoie of the Victoria Times Colonist that he had decided to return the last 17 dolphins to the wild, and would seek O’Barry’s help in doing it.
Porter was influenced, he said, by the February 2009 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum, an orca Porter trained at Sealand of the Pacific. Tilikum and two other Sealand orcas in 1991 killed trainer Keltie Byrne, 20. Tilikum was also involved in the 1999 death of a man who sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando after hours. (See “Sinking SeaWorld shoves 311 staff overboard,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-Zr.)
Porter is not known to have sold dolphins since 2007, but Marine Exports Limited has pursued compensation from the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries for not selling dolphins. In January 2012, wrote Solomon Star News court reporter Assumpta Buchanan, the Solomon Islands High Court ordered the Ministry of Fisheries to pay Marine Exports Limited more than $140,000.
Satu later in 2012 “expressed concern over people allegedly catching dolphin at Kolombangara, Western Province,” wrote Solomon Star News reporter Elliot Dawea. Ten dolphins had been captured, of whom three died from alleged dehydration and starvation during the next three weeks. Jacob Mate, spokesperson for the captors, demanded 12 houses and $42,000 for the dolphins’ release.
Threatened with arrest, Mate reduced his demand. “Having spent too much money and time looking after these dolphins,” Mate said, “we want Earth Island Institute or any other organization that wishes to have our dolphins released to compensate us $20,000.”
When the police did not move to make arrests, Earth Island Institute regional director Lawrence Makili paid $1,400 U.S. to secure the release of the surviving dolphins.
[Contact Ric O’Barry c/o Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, 171 Pier Ave, Box 234, Santa Monica, CA 90405 USA, www.DolphinProject.net, Mobile: +1 (786) 9738618.]
Mary Finelli says
Thank you very much for this very informative and revealing article. Such speciesism is alive and ugly within the animal protection community and marine conservation organizations. This is exemplified by Oceana promoting the book Perfect Protein, with a large photo of a fish on the cover, which, outrageously, claims that “eating more seafood is not only good for our health but can also help to save the planet.” (It’s not referring to vegan seafood, for which it actually would be true.)
Similarly, a spokesperson for the Pew Charitable Trusts recently stated: “’NOAA Fisheries deserves great praise for significantly increasing protections for bluefin while allowing fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue.” As I noted on the Fish Feel Facebook page, and on the Care2 webpage that broadcast the statement [ http://tinyurl.com/mtrzcqw ]: Why should NOAA be praised for allowing yellowfin tuna and swordfish to continue to be harmed and killed? This is the problem with caring about species rather than about the lives and suffering of individuals.
Not eating tuna or any other fish -or any other animals or animal products, for that matter- is the only real solution to these and so many other problems. It will also advance society a long way towards not harmfully exploiting animals in other ways. It’s what any entity or individual who is concerned about these matters SHOULD be advocating.
Karen Davis says
Thank you for your eye-opening and maddeningly depressing article. about Ric O’Barry’s justified frustrations. I wish him well and deeply admire his moral courage on behalf of dolphins, whales, orcas,, sharks, tuna, sea turtles, fish, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, clams, oysters, and all water-dwelling creatures who have the misfortune of living on this planet with our species. Now we see Whole Foods ads on television hauling in tons of thousands of fish with tortured faces, reassuring the public that this is “responsible” fishing for people who care about the planet. At least they don’t use the word “humane” to characterize the horror – maybe because their marketing experts advise that no one thinks “humane” or “inhumane” when thinking about fish. For the facts, visit Fish Feel at http://www.fishfeel.org