Dolphin-Safe Tuna – Anything But Safe

"You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t."

There never ceases to be good examples of just how true Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is.

Via Jason Kottke’s blog, I discovered marine biology grad student Dave Shiffman’s interesting debate The Ecological Disaster That Is Dolphin-Safe Tuna that sheds some unique perspectives on the concept of "dolphin-safe" tuna, its effects on sustainable commercial tuna fishing, and the impacts of bycatch.

Dolphin-Safe logoThe gist of the article is that we’ve blindly allowed activists to recklessly prioritize the well-being of one group of aquatic animals at the expense of many others.   This is largely because it’s easier for our collective conscience to identify with smart, friendly dolphins than other species that aren’t as easily empathized with because they seem less cute or intelligent.   As a result, government-mandated dolphin-safe fishing practices have unintentionally had devastating effects for a much broader range of oceanic creatures.

For every 1 dolphin saved, 382 Mahi-Mahi, 188 Wahoo, 82 Yellowtail & other large fish, 27 sharks, nearly 1,200 smaller fish, and a number of sea turtles and various other sea-life.

(To make matters worse, dolphin-safe fishing methods result in far more young tuna being caught rather than the more mature tuna who have already been reproducing, thereby making food supplies even more scarce for the very dolphins we’re striving to save.)

So the thorny ethical dilemma is whether it’s worth saving dolphins at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other endangered fish species.   Should we protect dolphins — who we have reason to believe are sentient mammals with intelligence that rivals our own — even if it means fishing some other sea-life right into extinction?
 

2 Comments

  1. I think dolphins are the most adorable creature on earth, please help save them. They are so smart and save people lives.

  2. Rob, your post raises some va;lid points on issues … some of which have bedeviled environmental concerns for decades.

    You note that "it’s easier for our collective conscience to identify with smart, friendly dolphins than other species that aren’t as easily empathized with because they seem less cute or intelligent," and you're absolutely correct. This is just the latest example of what has been called the 'panda principal' going the extra distance for the cute, cuddly-seeming endangered species.

    While the study does raise genuine concerns over the – I believe – unexpected, unintended consequences of 'dolphin safe' policies, I see it as a call for action … not to do away with such policies, but to adjust them, fine-tune them, re-direct and re-apply them based upon what has been learned since their first application.

    Great post … thanks for sharing.

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