WASHINGTON (CN) - In response to the World Trade Organization's finding that U.S. dolphin safe tuna regulations discriminate against Mexican fisheries, the regulations have been expanded and strengthened. The WTO's Appellate Body issued its report in November 2015 regarding Mexico's 2008 challenge to the U.S. dolphin safe label law, with its determination that there was a "difference in burden" in certification requirements for fisheries outside the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETO), where Mexico and some other countries operate large purse seine tuna fisheries.
"Over the years, hundreds of thousands of dolphins have died in the eastern tropical Pacific ocean as a result of fishing vessels intentionally chasing and encircling them to catch the tuna swimming beneath. The well-known and trusted Dolphin Safe label has been caught in a dispute before the World Trade Organization for the last eight years. We are pleased to see this new rule address the challenges brought by Mexico's fishing industry while at the same time expanding dolphin protections worldwide," Kitty Block, senior vice president of Human Society International, said in response to the rule.
The National Marine Fisheries Service's interim final rule, published Wednesday, revises regulations that implement the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act, which authorizes the dolphin safe label for tuna products. The label law was enacted in 1990, due to the deaths of thousands of dolphins, particularly in the ETO, where dolphins and tuna aggregate together.
"Contrary to claims by the government of Mexico, the Dolphin Safe label standards are intended to focus on tuna fisheries that regularly and deliberately net and kill dolphins," David Phillips, Director of Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project, said. "The WTO has ruled that the label standards have a valid scientific and conservation basis, but ruled narrowly that documentation regulations must be consistent over all fisheries in order to prevent discrimination against Mexico."
To answer Mexico's WTO challenge of discrimination, the new regulations require "one straightforward certification regarding intentional deployment and mortality/serious injury for all fisheries that produce tuna that is potentially eligible for the dolphin-safe label," according to the action. Effectively, instead of easing requirements on fisheries in the ETO, where the majority of dolphin/tuna encounters reportedly occur, the agency has imposed stricter requirements on all tuna fisheries worldwide to address the discrimination charge.
In addition, the regulations require that captains complete certification training, and strengthen chain of custody tracking requirements, in line with the agency's seafood traceability proposed rule published last month.
The agency makes the captain's training course available online and plans to translate it into "a sufficient number of languages to ensure that the vast majority of languages spoken by captains producing tuna for the U.S. tuna product market are covered by the translation," the action noted. Additionally, information regarding the new regulations and the training course will be sent to the embassies of all the countries supplying tuna to the U.S., the agency said.
The rule specifically makes clear that, regardless of gear used, if a vessel intentionally targets dolphins or intentionally deploys its fishing gear on dolphins in a fishing trip where tuna are caught, that tuna would not meet the dolphin safe standard.
"The new regulations demonstrate that the U.S. is taking extraordinary effort to ensure uniformity as sought by the WTO," Phillips said. "There is no circumstance in which it makes sense for Mexico to use the Dolphin Safe tuna label when they engage in the intentional chase and encirclement of dolphins during fishing operations. No company should get the Dolphin Safe label under such circumstances."
This interim final rule is effective March 22, except for requirements regarding captain certification and chain of custody, which are applicable for fishing trips that begin after May 21. Written comments are due by April 22.
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