Last week, the NYT Magazine posted an article about canned tuna. It’s a great read by columnist Tejal Rao and gives plenty of reasons why you should eat canned tuna—and she includes a recipe for tuna salad that will have even the haughtiest palates drooling. Honest! Check it out for yourself. But before you do, learn a little bit more about the species, and about the laws that go into labeling the household staple …
What is “dolphin-safe”
When I first saw a dolphin-safe label, I admit, I thought it meant the can of tuna I was about to eat did not also contain any bits and pieces of dolphin. I’d probably seen all the reruns of the 60s TV series Flipper and like many teenage girls, had developed a fondness for the marine mammals, so the thought of eating dolphin was beyond appalling. I mean who in their right mind could ever do such a thing! (Teenage girl or otherwise.) It would be like eating horse, or dog. Again, beyond appalling. Beyond.
As I got older and more intune with food labeling—especially where seafood is concerned—I learned more about the terminology and the truth about dolphin-safe labeling. And though there’s much more background than I’m giving you here, the gist of the dolphin-safe label is this: A dolphin-safe label on your can of tuna ensures that the tuna you are about to consume was not caught in a method that hunted, encircled or trapped dolphin in the process of fishing for tuna.
The background of the dolphin-safe label
Throughout the ocean, where tuna swim, so do dolphin. Fishermen use speedboats to lure and chase dolphin so they can, by default, find tuna. They then drop purse seines that work like a giant drawstring laundry bag trapping everything that comes in contact with the netting. Hence, they catch their tuna and as a result, also catch dolphin.
The Earth Island Institute estimates that close to 100,000 dolphin were killed each year as a result of tuna fishing bycatch during the 1980s
April, 1988 filmmaker and biologist Sam LaBudde released a video of dolphins caught in a purse seine intended for tuna.
“Drowned or snagged in the net, the dolphins fight a losing battle for life,” said LaBudde. “Some will fall back into the sea as flippers and beaks are broken or ripped out of their bodies, only to become ensnared moments later and be pulled out once again.”
The extreme brutality shown in the video sparked a viral outcry from consumers, lawmakers, environmental groups, and animal rights advocates alike … all calling for a massive boycott of canned tuna fish. In response, major tuna distributors began labeling their tuna “dolphin-safe.” At the time, however, there were no laws in place to govern or authenticate the claim.
A few years later, in 1990, the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act was created and in accordance with the law, “dolphin-safe” is defined as follows: no dolphins were chased, trapped or killed during the fishing for tuna.
Today, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, close to 1,000 dolphin are killed annually in the pursuit of tuna. Not a great statistic, but considering where we were a few decades ago, its most certainly a step—a huge step at that—in the right direction.
This is part three of my series on tuna. Read more: Rethinking tuna: What’s OK to eat, and what’s not and How to grill tuna. Coming up NEXT WEEK on the blog … how to make smoked salmon pizza with crème fraîche.
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DISCLAIMER: I’m a writer and an editor. And I try my best to make sure every post is articulate and free from errors. However, being that I edit my own work—and it’s next to impossible to properly edit your own work—I admit, occasionally there may be an error or two I miss. But doing so doesn’t make me an idiot so don’t be mean. Just smile, pat yourself on the back for finding an error and be glad you’re not the only one who makes mistakes sometimes … yes, even mermaids slip up every now and then. xoxox