U.S. appeals WTO ruling on dolphin-safe label dispute


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
June 8, 2015

The United States government on Friday filed a Notice of Appeal with the World Trade Organization regarding an April ruling that it is discriminating against Mexico tuna suppliers regarding compliance requirements for dolphin-safe labels affixed to canned tuna.

The dispute, “United States – Measures concerning the importation, marketing and sale of tuna and tuna products: recourse to article 21.5 of the DSU by Mexico,” spans a quarter century. Mexico has long argued that the U.S. policy unfairly limits its share of the massive U.S. imported canned tuna market.

Some environmental groups have long supported the U.S. policy, which is intentionally strict and stronger than most international tuna-trade agreements, say proponents.

The fishing method at issue is known as “fishing on dolphins,” a practice in which fishing vessels track tuna by following leaping dolphins, known to swim in proximity to tunas, particularly in the area in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean in which the Mexican fleet operates. The dolphin-safe label is a certification that no nets were intentionally set on dolphins in the set in which the tuna was caught; and no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna was caught.

Earth Island Institute guided the United States policy and dolphin-safe tuna labels, which were required beginning in 1990. Critics say the regulation lacks scientific rigor; the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna argues that 96 percent of tuna in the U.S. marketplace that is not captured in the eastern tropical Pacific is eligible for the dolphin-safe label with “virtually no proof that it was captured without harm to dolphins.”

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