Former USTF chief David Burney dies


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
February 22, 2009

David G. Burney, former executive director of the U.S. Tuna Foundation, passed away last week at the age of 70. Burney, who joined the seafood industry as general counsel for the American Tuna Boat Association in 1973, was most recently CEO of the South Pacific Tuna Corp., a San Diego-based tuna vessel management company.

Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) expressed sadness at Burney's passing.

"Dave and I knew each other for some 20 years, and worked together almost since the time I came into Congress to build up American Samoa's tuna fishing and processing industries," Faleomavaega said. "More than anyone, Dave was the most influential person in the history of the U.S. tuna business and he was known and loved by many people all around the world."

Burney represented the USTF for 30 years since its inception in 1976, first as general counsel and then as executive director for two decades. The organization represented the three largest U.S. canned tuna companies: StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea. In March 2007, the USTF merged with the National Fisheries Institute, which formed the Tuna Council.

Burney fought hard against the state of California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the three tuna companies in 2004 to force them to comply with Prop 65, a law that requires food manufacturers to label products that contain potentially harmful ingredients.

The USTF and the tuna companies successfully defeated Prop 65 in May 2006 when a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled mercury warnings on tuna cans were unnecessary. Burney announced his retirement shortly after the case was decided.

"Instead of finding ways to discourage people from eating seafood we should be busy finding ways to help everyone eat better," Burney told SeaFood Business at the time.

NFI President John Connelly called Burney a "champion and friend."

"His focus on the nutritional benefits of tuna and its role as an economical source of healthy protein for Americans was visionary," said Connelly. "Dave saw tuna as not just a valuable source of nourishment but as a nutritional base that he called ‘vital to many communities.' His focus on the health of Americans and the health of the industry was vital to the tuna community and he will be missed."

Burney is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two stepchildren.

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