Dolphin Protection Lawsuit Dismissed

WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2002 (ENS) - The Court of International Trade has dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmental groups over the way that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implemented its dolphin conservation program in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean tuna fishery.

"This is good news for dolphins, tuna, fisheries managers and the international agreement process," said NMFS director Bill Hogarth. "This court decision strengthens our holistic approach to dolphin safe tuna management in the international arena. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the United States must set strong protection standards that also take into account international trade, commerce, international agreements and foreign policy."

net

Dolphins caught with tuna in the same net (Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
In the December 7 decision, Judge Judith Barzilay agreed with NMFS' interpretation of the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA), saying the agency's implementing regulations, put into effect in January 2000, were legal. Barzilay ruled that the government had complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in completing the regulations and in negotiating the 1999 Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program.

In February 2000, Defenders of Wildlife and more than a dozen other environmental organizations and individuals filed suit against NMFS, seeking a preliminary injunction barring the service from lifting trade embargoes against Mexico or other eastern tropical Pacific Ocean tuna fishing nations.

NMFS sought to allow Mexico to export to the United States yellowfin tuna harvested in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean using large purse-seine vessels, which the groups say endanger the dolphins that follow the tuna schools.

William Snape, vice president for legal affairs at Defenders of Wildlife, and counsel for the 12 environmental groups and three individuals in the case, said the plaintiffs were disappointed by the ruling.

"Not only did the court reject our claims involving the relationship between the 1997 International Dolphin Conservation Program Act and the 1998 International Agreement, but we believe it also abdicated its responsibility under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) - our country's charter for environmental protection for over three decades," said Snape.

"The claims before the Court related to the yellowfin tuna fishery in the ETP, where foreign fishermen deliberately set large nets upon legally 'depleted' populations of dolphins to catch the lucrative tuna that often swim underneath," he added. At least three populations of dolphins remain listed as 'depleted' under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act as a direct result of the eastern tropical Pacific yellowfin tuna fishery, Snape charged.

The groups plan to appeal the court's decision. More information on the case is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR2/Tuna_Dolphin/tunadolphin.html