Court Victory for Dolphins

The United States Federal Court has struck down the Bush Administration's effort to weaken dolphin protection.

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the San Francisco based group Earth Island Institute, the attempt to weaken the protection for tuna in the United States has been stopped by a ruling by Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, in the case Earth Island Institute v. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans.

Judge Henderson noted that the US Commerce Department's weakening of the "Dolphin-safe" label on tuna cans illegally ignored scientific evidence and must be overturned. He ordered the issuance of a new rule prohibiting the use of a "Dolphin-safe" label on any tuna products caught by netting dolphins.

David Phillips, director of Earth Island Institute, stated, "Thankfully, the courts have averted a disaster for dolphins. Judge Henderson's ruling exposes the Bush Administration's deceit in ignoring its own scientists and caving in to Mexican demands to allow dolphin-deadly tuna back into US with a phony label."

Phillips continued, "Secret court documents proved that the government knew all along that netting dolphins was jeopardizing their very survival. Yet the Bush Administration still went ahead and ruled that tuna trade with Mexico was more important than dolphin lives".

In the 51-page decision handed down on August 9th, Federal District Court Judge Henderson rebuked the Bush Administration, stating, "The record convincingly demonstrates that the Secretary of Commerce nonetheless proceeded to sacrifice the integrity of the decision-making process by disregarding the best available scientific evidence in favor of political and diplomatic considerations."

On December 31, 2002, President Bush's Commerce Secretary Evans issued a "no significant adverse impacts" finding, allowing Mexico, Colombia, and other tuna fishing nations to label their tuna as "Dolphin Safe" and sell it in the U.S., even if it was caught by the chasing, netting, and killing thousands of dolphins annually.

More than 17 million dolphins have been killed in tuna nets since the late 1950's.

Earth Island Institute's federal lawsuit contended that the Bush Administration weakened the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label definition on the basis of trade politics, rather than science, as required by Congress. Earth Island took steps to obtain secret government memos demonstrating that the US agencies' own biologists knew dolphin populations were not recovering as a result of the tuna fishery. Documents revealed the intense pressure from the US State Department, Mexico and other tuna fishing nations to ignore the scientific conclusions. Phillips stated, "More than 300 documents were withheld from the court record. The Bush Administration went to amazing lengths to prevent Earth Island and the court from obtaining these damaging revelations."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society applauds the efforts of Earth Island Institute in taking this issue to the courts and winning a legal victory for the dolphins.