Are Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labels Eco-Safe?

For many grocery shoppers a dolphin-safe label on their tuna can be a huge incentive to buy that product. Let’s face it; millions of people around the world adore dolphins. Buying a can of tuna that is advertised to the public that no dolphins were harmed can bring a sense of comfort. But what does the “dolphin-safe” label really mean? Does it mean that dolphins were safe from catch methods, or does it mean that there is no dolphin meat in that product?


Mother and calf awaiting release from tuna fishing net. Copyright

The current US laws on dolphin-safe labeling can be extremely misleading to the public. When the Marine Mammal Protection Act was created and later enforced, dolphins in US waters were finally safe from tuna fishermen. However, this does not address tuna fish caught in other parts of the world. The dolphin-safe label seen on almost all cans of tuna in American grocery stores does not actually cover the protection of dolphins, and other marine life, outside of the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The label actually only takes the method of fishing into consideration and NOT the bycatch. Taking into account that tuna is the number one seafood import in America this news should be extremely alarming to consumers. “Dolphin-safe” labels should not be deemed eco-friendly or even dolphin-friendly for that matter.

After further digging it is apparent that the tuna fishing industry is left unregulated by any agency. The Campaign for Eco-safe tuna reports that “98% of tuna sold in the United States originates from unmonitored and untracked fisheries where thousands of dolphins are killed every year”. Does this mean that there is a possibility that dolphin meat could actually be in your tuna can? Recent statistics say that 1 in 5 people believe that “dolphin-safe” means no dolphin meat is in the can itself. The sad and very tragic fact of the matter is  that dolphins have been harmed and killed due to tuna fishing methods and later discarded as bycatch.


An example of shark bycatch from tuna fisherman. Copyright to

Shark Conservation, for many animal advocates, is a hot topic. With a study released just last month in Marine Policy we are looking at a large drop in shark population numbers. The study suggests that 3 sharks are killed every second, totaling around 100 million a year. Where are all these sharks going, might you ask? Obviously a large percentage of these majestic predators are being slaughtered for the shark-fin trade, but what about the tuna industry? It is reported by several organizations that sharks are indeed a bycatch in the tuna fishing business. The fishing practices of these companies also cause harm to other species of animals in the oceans including whales, turtles and seabirds. The sad truth to this matter is that sharks have also been harmed and killed by tuna fisherman and  later discarded.

It’s time to take a stand; action is everything! The current Dolphin-safe Tuna labeling is outdated and destructive to our oceans. The United States needs to update the tuna fish labels and allow a neutral international commission to regulate, track, and oversee the tuna Fish caught in our oceans and sold in our stores. We truly need a new system that considers bycatch instead of catch methods. As a consumer we urge you to please educate yourself further in this matter, talk to your local lawmakers and make conscious efforts to decrease your consumption of canned tuna.



About Alex Dorer

Alex Dorer is a 24 year old activist. Having watched The Cove during its initial release and learning about the capture practices and the dangers of captivity, she felt compelled to stand up and voice her concerns to others. Since then she has dedicated her time and energy to working towards educating others about ocean conversation. Recently Alex joined forces with Wendy Brunot to have a lone killer whale named Shouka, moved to an alternate marine park to be with other orcas. Following the news of a planned Beluga Whale import, Alex hosted a protest in Atlanta In July 2012 together with Free the Atlanta 11 and GARP which attracted significant attention to the issues behind such an initiative. Alex's love is not limited to cetaceans - she sees the beauty in all marine life. She is excited to be part of the movement that will end captivity for all marine mammals.
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6 Responses to Are Dolphin-Safe Tuna Labels Eco-Safe?

  1. Great information, good job!

  2. This is an issue that has been left off the burner too long. Thanks for bringing it back to our attention.

  3. Pingback: The “Dolphin-Safe” Fiction | Tim Zimmermann

  4. beachmama says:

    Thank you so much for bringing this back to the surface and out into the light of day! There is so much misunderstanding about this issue. If you’ve ever seen a net filled with bycatch it leaves a searing image in your mind forever. The average consumer of tuna doesn’t realize that this industry is largely unregulated. There just isn’t the manpower/dollars to oversee what’s happening on the boats.

    Thank you to all of the dedicated people who put in time, effort, and risk their lives to help these creatures and to educate the public. xxoo

  5. Pingback: Dolphin Safe / Dolphin Friendly - Green Behavior

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