Think tank: Dolphin-safe tuna regs ‘a fraud’


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
May 4, 2015

A libertarian think tank is weighing in on the ongoing case of what the United States defines as “dolphin-safe” labeling and the impact such regulations have on Mexican tuna fishing.

K. William Watson, a trade policy analyst for the Washington-based Cato Institute, blasted the current dolphin-safe labeling program in a recent commentary on the institute’s website, describing the labeling program as “a fraud cooked up by special interests.”

Watson’s commentary, which also appeared on, did not explicitly say what special interests he thinks are involved, but he argued the current regulations are “providing cover for a handful of major (tuna) brands.”

The issue has been smoldering since 2008, when Mexico filed a grievance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) alleging dolphin-safe-related regulations in the United States constituted a trade barrier to tuna caught in Mexican waters.

The WTO has gone back and forth on the issue, most recently finding in favor of Mexico, requiring the United States to revisit its regulations, and essentially its definition of what “sustainable” tuna fishing is.

The current dolphin-safe rules control the use of a technique known as “setting on dolphins,” or using the presence of dolphins as an indicator of the presence of tuna, prompting fishermen to set their nets where dolphins are seen. While restricting this kind of behavior is laudable, Watson argued that other methods, such as the use of fish aggregating devices, are not included, and should be.

Watson also accused dolphin-safe regulators of requiring independent observers on boats fishing in the eastern tropical Pacific, areas frequented by Mexican tuna fishing fleets, while “tuna caught elsewhere in the world can be called dolphin-safe based merely on a declaration from the ship’s operator.”

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did not respond before deadline to SeafoodSource for comment.


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