By David Helvarg
It’s not really a fixed grin, it’s the Botox. Oh, is your tape running? Sorry. Flipper DePescado here. I’m the union rep for Cetacean local 405 at the Long Beach Aquarium, but before that my family were free swimmers in Mexico and let me tell you people·Well, what can I say? Half the time you want to swim with us and stroke us in a not entirely healthy way, the other half you act like we’re hiding scud missiles under our flukes.
Now the Bush administration can’t deliver on immigration reform so they’re gonna let Mexico kill more of my compadres? What kinda deal is that? Just ’cause we swim with the fishes doesn’t mean we want to end up chopped into little tuna bits and compressed in a can.
I know, technically they say there will be observers on the Mexican boats that set encircling nets around dolphins swimming over tuna. Any sets in which my buddies are killed the tuna fish won’t be shipped to the US, but sold to the local market instead. That’s the Department of Commerce’s rationale for redefining the term “dolphin safe tuna,” though “Dead, but probably not in this particular can” might be a more accurate label for the changes they propose. This rule change would allow Mexican and other Latin American fishing companies using dolphin-killing nets access to the US tuna market, which is 70% of the global market.
This lucrative opportunity has been denied them for over a decade, since a tuna boycott led by my pals at the Earth Island Institute resulted in the US industry going “dolphin safe” in 1990, and the subsequent passage of the Dolphin Safe labeling law. Before all that happened there were literally hundreds of thousands of us dying every year in encircling nets. I mean we’re talking flippercide.
Now things are better but our population still hasn’t recovered. And it ain’t for trying. I don’t want to brag but along with you humans, dolphins are one of the few species that are “receptive” year round if you know what I mean. That can put a lot of stress on a dolphin when it comes time to “perform.” Now it turns out two government scientists in San Diego discovered we also get stressed out whenever we’re around tuna boats. Well duh, I say. Still their bosses in the Department of Commerce didn’t like their findings, so they cut their funding and tried to suppress their work.
OK, so I may not be the smartest mammal in the sea but obviously this attempt to stuff us back in a can isn’t just about George W. doing a favor for his friend Mexican President Vicente Fox.
If Starkist, Bumblebee and the other big tuna companies say they don’t agree with this switch and bait routine, and won’t go along with it, why is the Department of Commerce pushing so hard to loosen the definition of “Dolphin Safe”?
I think the Bush administration has bigger fish to fry. If they want to go after the European Union’s ban on Genetically Altered food as an obstruction to free trade (and they say they do), first they’ll want to make sure there are no US environmental rules standing in the way of free trade that the Europeans could point to. Plus it’s not exactly like this administration is full of kelp huggers.
You remember those turtle wannabes at the Seattle WTO talks in 1999? They were protesting the same sort of thing, a World Trade Organization ruling that said the US hindered free trade by requiring imported shrimp be caught by boats using devices which prevent turtles from drowning in their nets (like us dolphins they’re also air breathers). This is at a time when most of the world’s sea turtles, some of the oldest species on earth, are in danger of extinction. And while I don’t like to stereotype a whole species, it ain’t the tiger sharks that are wiping them out.
I also don’t like the term “race to the bottom” since that’s something I do in my tank every day and quite enjoy, but clearly there’s something wrong when first the Clinton and now the Bush administration are willing to sacrifice dolphins on the altar of unfettered global commerce.
After all, we dolphins have served this country well. We’ve done “wet work” for the Navy in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, and stand ready in our San Diego pens should we be called upon again, even by an administration that’s turned its dorsal side to us. We’ve entertained you in marine theme parks and swim along programs. We were wildly popular on TV and in movies long before a certain fat Orca made the Hollywood scene. We’ve tolerated a lot of abuse over the years but this latest attempt to redefine “Dolphin Safe” as “Dolphin Dead” is enough to make a hagfish gag. Please stop the madness before I lose my smile.
David Helvarg is the author of Blue Frontier ö Saving America’s Living Seas and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign in Washington DC.