In the first major international accord to save dolphins, 10 nations that fish for tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean have agreed to cut the killing of dolphins by 80 percent during the 1990s.
The agreement, negotiated by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission last month, builds on an earlier 80 percent drop in dolphin kills, achieved from 1986 to 1991.
"The resolution sets into motion a program to reduce dolphin mortality to insignificant levels, to levels approaching zero," Dr. James Joseph, director of the commission, said in a phone interview from La Jolla, Calif.
Dolphins, which breathe air, drown when purse seine nets used to catch tuna close over their heads.
Under the accord, the number of dolphins killed by tuna fishing would fall below 5,000 by 1999 from the 1991 level of 25,000. Tuna boats from the United States, the only nation to release a national estimate, killed about 1,000 dolphins last year.
The resolution, which is to be formally ratified in June, was reached in La Jolla by representatives of governments that account for 99 percent of the tuna catch in the eastern Pacific: Costa Rica, France, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Spain, the United States, Venezuela and Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides.
To reduce the annual kills, member countries are expected to adopt asystem of individual vessel quotas next month. Under the system, an independent on-board observer would inform a tuna captain when he had reached his vessel quota. Captains who continue fishing would be subject to fines or license suspensions.
The program calls for $4 million to be spent on scientific research projects to help tuna boats catch tuna without killing dolphins.