One of the most impressive environmental victories of 1990 grew out of a classic David-and-Goliath face-off between the tuna fishing industry and "little" people who were concerned about saving dolphins.
Led by the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute, millions of consumers boycotted canned tuna that had been caught in boats using purse seine nets (which trap dolphins along with fish). For a while it seemed to many of us like one more hopeless cause. Then suddenly last April, H. J. Heinz, owner of Starkist Tuna (the largest tuna canning company in the world), gave in and pledged to buy only "dolphin-safe" tuna. Within hours, two other companies agreed to stop their harmful fishing practices as well.
According to Earth Island's executive director David Phillips, this historic decision was "the most important step for the protection of dolphins and the marine environment since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, nearly 20 years ago." And all because enough individuals protested the killing of the dolphins.
Where are we now that the publicity has worn off? Here's a look at what's happening.
You may have noticed that some tuna cans and pet food made with fish products at the supermarket now sport "dolphin-safe" labels. That sounds good, but Donna Woish at Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project cautions that some companies are calling themselves dolphin-safe even though they really aren't. How is that possible? A legal loophole. The companies catch tuna "in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act," which doesn't protect all dolphins; it allows companies to slaughter up to 20,500 dolphins each year in the pursuit of tuna.
Fortunately, this loophole will be closed in April, when a new labeling bill takes effect. But the fight isn't over yet. There are some important steps you can take right now.
What you can do
Buy the brands of tuna that are really dolphin-safe -- and boycott the others. According to Earth Island, the dolphin-safe brands include only Heinz/Starkist, Chicken of the Sea, Deep Sea Tongol Tuna and Ocean Light Tuna. It's OK to buy pet foods made with fish products from these companies, too. But Earth Island suggests that you stay away from Bumblebee, Three Diamonds, Geisha and Carnation, which haven't been proven dolphin-safe.
* If you have a cat or dog, buy only pet food from dolphin-safe NTC companies. A few examples: Nine Lives, Finicky Bits, Skippy, Meaty Bone and Vet's Recipe.
* Write to Robert Mosbacher, Secretary of Commerce, 14th and E streets N.W., Washington, D.C. 20230. Tell him you want the United States to ban the setting of nets on dolphins and force embargoes on countries that kill dolphins. After all, what good will it do the dolphins if we're the only country trying to save them?
* The next time you go shopping, tell the supermarket manager you'd like the store to sell only dolphin-safe products. If the store has its own brand of tuna, suggest that it be made dolphin-safe.
For more information about the Dolphin Project, contact Earth Island Institute, 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, Calif. 94133; (415) 788-3666.
% *The EarthWorks Group