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Document Type

Article

Abstract

During the past twenty years, few marine conservation issues have aroused as much public interest as the drowning of dolphins in purse seine nets. For a generation that grew up watching the playful antics of Flipper on television, graphic video footage of dolphins hauled to their deaths in tuna nets was simply too much to stomach. Led by American school children and their "baby-boomer" parents, consumer boycotts of tuna spurred tuna harvesters and Congress to adopt measures requiring "dolphin safe" labeling and prohibiting the importation of non-dolphin-safe tuna into the United States. Since the adoption of these measures, the number of dolphins killed in the ETP tuna fishery has dramatically declined. Curiously, however, encirclement of dolphins by tuna fishers occurs as frequently today as it did before the adoption of "dolphin safe" restrictions. In a remarkable display of innovation and commitment to solving an environmental problem and a public-relations nightmare, ETP tuna fishers have perfected fishing methods that allow the encirclement and safe release of dolphins while tuna are caught. Despite this progress, however, tuna caught in this manner are still not considered "dolphin safe." Moreover, tuna from other nations which allow encirclement and safe release are still embargoed under U.S. law. Faced with this situation, on October 4, 1995, twelve nations adopted the Panama Declaration. This blueprint for developing a legally binding and enforceable agreement within the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) is intended to further reduce and eventually eliminate dolphin deaths caused by tuna fishing operations. The Panama Declaration forms the basis for an international agreement that will provide protection for individual dolphin stocks and species to ensure their continued growth and recovery. It will also help reduce the incidental capture of other marine life, such as sea turtles, sharks, and billfish. Finally, the Panama Declaration adopts measures designed to guarantee the sustained health of the tuna fishery and the marine ecosystem of the ETP. Impeding implementation of the Panama Declaration, however, is the definition of "dolphin safe." The implementation of the Panama Declaration calls for "dolphin safe" to be re-defined from its current meaning of "no encirclement of dolphins" to a more meaningful definition of "no dolphin mortality." Legislation introduced in Congress to implement the Panama Declaration, which proposes to change the definition of "dolphin safe," has resulted in a heated debate-one which pits the Clinton Administration, the fishing industry, several national environmental groups, and a bipartisan coalition in Congress against an array of animal welfare and environmental organizations, Hollywood stars, and their congressional allies. Consequently, quick passage of this pivotal legislation has been hampered.. This Article explores the history of efforts under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA or "the Act"), to reduce dolphin mortality, including the development and implementation of the "dolphin safe" label, international efforts to reduce dolphin mortality, and the genesis of the Panama Declaration. This Article concludes by examining the impact that implementation of the Panama Declaration would most likely have on dolphins and other marine life in the ETP.

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