NOAA 2002-R104
Contact: Gordon Helm
NOAA News Releases 2002
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The Court of International Trade has ruled in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) by dismissing a lawsuit brought by the Defenders of Wildlife over implementation of its dolphin conservation program in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean tuna fishery.

"This is good news for dolphins, tuna, fisheries managers and the international agreement process," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries director. "This court decision strengthens our holistic approach to dolphin-safe tuna management in the international arena. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the United States must set strong protection standards that also take into account international trade, commerce, international agreements, and foreign policy."

In the Dec. 7 decision, Judge Judith M. Barzilay agreed with NOAA Fisheries' interpretation of the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA) and upheld the legality of implementing regulations put into effect in January 2000. The court also affirmed that the government complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in completing the regulations and in negotiating the 1999 Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program.

Finally, the court held that NOAA Fisheries' "affirmative finding" for Mexico was not arbitrary and capricious. The affirmative finding allows Mexico to export to the United States yellowfin tuna harvested in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean using purse-seine vessels with a carrying capacity greater than 400 short tons.

The NOAA Fisheries tuna/dolphin team has worked over the last decade on a progression of key achievements leading up to the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Plan (Agreement on the IDCP), its authorizing act, the IDCPA, dolphin research and monitoring, and U.S. regulations. These achievements have resulted in (1) a precipitous drop in dolphin mortality in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean since 1986 from 133,000 dolphins per year to less than 2,000 per year, (2) a cooperative international mechanism for setting dolphin mortality limits, tracking them, and holding the tuna fleet, and appropriate flag countries accountable if limits are exceeded, (3) a system for tuna tracking and verification, and (4) a process for lifting import embargoes to countries that can document compliance with the Agreement on the IDCP.

On Feb. 8, 2000, Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental organizations filed suit against the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries in the Court of International Trade. The plaintiffs alleged that NOAA Fisheries did not lawfully implement the IDCPA, the NEPA, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction from the court to prevent NOAA Fisheries from making "affirmative findings" to lift embargoes against Mexico or other eastern tropical Pacific Ocean tuna fishing nations.

The ruling by the Court of International Trade strongly supports U.S. participation in the IDCP and is a validation of the continued efforts of ETP-fishing nations to reduce dolphin mortality in the ETP tuna fishery. This ruling has far-reaching implications for international resource management, reaffirming the importance of multilateral cooperation in ecosystem-based conservation of international fishery resources.

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