NOAA 2002-168
Contact: Connie Barclay, Gordon Helm
NOAA News Releases 2002
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The Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) today announced its finding that the tuna purse seine industry practice of encircling dolphins to catch tuna has no significant adverse impact on dolphin populations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP). The finding clears the way for tuna caught under the terms of a binding multilateral environmental agreement to be imported into the United States with the dolphin-safe label, so long as no dolphins are injured or killed during the set in which the tuna are caught.

“This determination recognizes all the hard work by U.S. and international fishermen of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) to substantially reduce dolphin deaths and create a sustainable fishery,” said NOAA Fisheries director Bill Hogarth. “Without the international community’s continuing cooperation and support, dolphin populations would be in serious trouble.”

The Commerce Department was required by Congress to conduct research and make a finding regarding the impact of the tuna purse seine fishery on depleted dolphin stocks in the ETP. Today’s decision was based on a review of the results of the required research, information obtained under the IDCP and other relevant information.

Hogarth said that the United States would seek better enforcement of existing International Dolphin Conservation Program (IDCP) requirements and promote a strong package of improvements to the Program, including new requirements on a growing number of smaller vessels.

“One of our main goals is to reduce dolphin deaths and to conserve living marine resources, while at the same time maintaining the sustainability of the ETP tuna fishery under the international agreement,” Hogarth said. “This agreement has reduced dolphin mortality from hundreds of thousands of dolphins to approximately 2,000 dolphins per year.”

As part of this commitment to dolphins in the ETP, NOAA Fisheries will continue to conduct research and monitoring on depleted dolphin stocks. Working with the IATTC and the Marine Mammal Commission, the agency will conduct annual reviews of the effectiveness of the IDCP and continue to develop conservation measures to recover depleted dolphins and maintain tuna stocks. NOAA Fisheries is expecting to fund research at approximately $3 million per year.

“The dolphin safe label was developed as a way to help protect and conserve dolphins,” said Hogarth. “With this decision, Americans can continue to have confidence that when they purchase tuna with the dolphin-safe label that dolphins are being protected.”

In the 1950s, fishermen discovered that yellowfin tuna in the ETP aggregated beneath schools of dolphin stocks. For years after the discovery, the predominant tuna fishing methods in the ETP involved encircling schools of dolphins with fishing nets to entrap the tuna concentrated below. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of dolphins died in the early years because of this fishing method. As a result of the successful multilateral environmental agreement requiring changes in purse seine fishing methods, observed dolphin mortalities since the 1980s have dropped to approximately 2,000 per year.

In 1991 NOAA Fisheries implemented the “dolphin-safe” labeling system as a way of reducing dolphin deaths due to tuna fishing. Under the initial label criteria, tuna harvested in the ETP could be labeled “dolphin-safe” only if no intentional setting on dolphins occurred during the fishing trip. With today’s decision, the criteria are changed so that tuna harvested in the ETP by large purse seine vessels can be labeled dolphin-safe even if dolphins are encircled, so long as no dolphins are killed or seriously injured during the set in which the tuna were caught.

U.S. participation in the ETP tuna fishery has greatly decreased over the years while foreign participation in the ETP fishery has continued to increase. Although the U.S. presence in this fishery has declined, the U.S. commitment to conserving the living marine resources in the ETP is stronger than ever.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries please visit

Additional information regarding the tuna/dolphin program can be found on the NOAA Fisheries Web site at