Protect the Ocean with Dolphin-Safe Labeling

Target: World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy

Goal: To reverse the decision ruling that U.S. “dolphin-safe” labels violate free-trade agreements.

The consumer-led movement to protect dolphins from slaughter at the hand of tuna fisheries can largely be considered a success.  The movement eventually reached its culmination with creation of the “dolphin-safe” label placed on tuna cans to denote that the tuna was caught using methods deemed safe for dolphins and other aquatic life.

From the 1960’s to the 1990’s the usage of purse-sein nets to capture tuna resulted in an estimated seventy to eighty percent drop in spotted and spinner dolphin populations.

Since that time, dolphin-safe practices have resulted in a population rebound as measured by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.  The environmental impact of this practice has been measurably effective.

Yet a current ruling by the world trade organization puts the safety of dolphins once more in jeopardy.  The ruling states that the United States’ dolphin-safe label is in violation of current free trade agreements with Mexico and that Mexican fisherman should be able to sell tuna to U.S. canneries even if their methods violated the existing dolphin-safe rules.

Ever since a 2007 American court decision upheld the current dolphin-safe standards the Mexican government has attempted to fight the ruling in the international market.  These attempts at seeking a repeal by pouring funding into courtrooms only serves to highlight how that funding may have been put to use in helping Mexican fishing fleets to simply conform to the evolving sensibilities of consumers concerned with the safety of marine life.

The ruling is especially disheartening considering that the dolphin-safe label is strictly voluntary, which somehow was construed as being equivalent to mandatory by the WTO ruling panel primarily because of the subjective consumer preferences the existing standards may cultivate.


Dear Pascal Lamy,

The notion of environmental conservation is a primary concern of a large population today.  Standards have changed and evolved making it as much an international focus as free trade and world politics.

These changing sensibilities have resulted in consumer-generated change such as the “dolphin-safe” tuna can label utilized by American canneries at present to denote that the tuna was caught utilizing methods conducive to the safety of marine life, especially dolphins.

The adoption of this label is a strictly voluntary practice.  Consumer standards have driven the creation of the label, not the other way around.  Thus the notion that subjective consumer preference will be cultivated in a manner counter to the tenants of free-trade is entirely faulty.

It is with this in mind that the ruling of the World Trade Organization must be overturned.  Mexican fishing rights are not being violated by this label as the United States government does not require canneries to utilize the aforementioned label.

Free-trade agreements are generated to ensure that different nations have the capacity to trade openly, not that one side must be compelled to purchase a product that the average consumer finds objectionable.

In a true open market it would be expected that the producer be compelled to adapt his product to shifting consumer standards not the reverse.  The voluntary nature of the labeling by canneries and tuna importers protects the ocean and consumer rights.

Should a cannery elect to forgo the label they are perfectly able to purchase tuna caught by non dolphin-safe means, there is no trade restriction in place preventing this from happening, it simply is not equitable for major brands to go this route.

I respectfully ask you to do what is right for both the environment and international free-trade.  Overturn this decision and allow for the labeling of “dolphin-safe” to continue as it has since its 1990 creation.


[Your Name Will Go Here]

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