Feds Knew “Dolphin-Safe” Rules Were Being Broken

In 2002, the Bush administration relaxed restrictions on foreign-caught tuna, allowing boats that netted dolphins to sell their tuna as “dolphin-safe” in the U.S. as long as the dolphins were released. The relaxed rule relied on the fact that observers were placed on boats to report on whether dolphins were caught in nets. Turns out, though, that in Mexico — a major source of foreign tuna — those observers are regularly bribed with payments of $10,000 to lie about dolphin netting. And it gets better: According to an internal Commerce Department email, U.S. government officials have been aware of the bribes for five years — aware, in other words, that the system of observation was doing little to protect dolphins. Last year, enviro group Earth Island Institute sought and received a court injunction suspending the new rule; government lawyers have argued that the email is “irrelevant” to the rule, a claim U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson called “specious.”