Game Changer: not taking sustainability seriously can cause bankruptcy

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Now most of you are most probably still lying on a beach somewhere and are not in the least interested in tuna unless it comes in the form of a nice steak on your summer-holiday dinner-table. Meanwhile, back home in the land of the working, fierce tuna wars are reshaping the tuna world as we have known it for the past decades. It might well be that we are witnessing the fall and even destruction of the three big tuna brands _ Bumblebee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea _ the ‘Big Three’ that once were the uncontested three superpowers in the US tuna market. And as we will see this will have inevitable consequences in making sustainable tuna fisheries something to take more serious while doing business.

Hundreds of clients, most of them retailers, have filed price fixing cases against the ‘Big Three’. These individual claims are now grouped together in class-action law suits and ask for a staggering 2.5-billion-dollar compensation in fines of the tuna brands.  

Why is this important for sustainable tuna fisheries? First of all, we are dealing with the three companies that sell about three quarters of all canned tuna in the US. That is a lot of tuna and a lot of room to improve sustainability. At the core of the accusations of price fixing is the assumption that the Big Three where conspiring together against consumer interests. The plaintiffs argue that aside of price fixing, the companies collectively conspired not to launch a FAD-free tuna product in the US-market. The Fish Aggregating Devices are considered a severe problem in sustainable tuna fisheries.

The plaintiffs argue that aside of price fixing, the companies collectively conspired not to launch a FAD-free tuna product in the US-market

This is awkward for the Big Three, who are important members of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). ISSF jointly represents a group of the world biggest tuna companies that cover 75 per cent of the global canning industry. ISSF has been advocating sustainable fisheries, but according to critics they are more of an extended lobby group that would like to get a grip on sustainability policies, before sustainability policies get a grip on them. A court ruling not only ruins the credibility of the Big Three’s feeble sustainability policies but also shines a shrill light on the activities of ISSF. Two years ago, ISSF declared that it would require processors and traders participating in its ‘sustainability standards’ to exclusively buy tuna from participating suppliers. Not much was heard about the ruling ever since, and with a court sentence it is highly probable that ISSF will not apply it at all out of precaution for being accused of conspiracy.

In other words: not taking tuna fisheries sustainability seriously and use it for other purposes like closing the market or price conspiracy now comes with a billion-dollar price tag.  The message is clear: companies should compete and not conspire with sustainability. It puts serious limits to private partnership organizations like ISSF as promoters of sustainability.

The message is clear: companies should compete and not conspire with sustainability

Not taking sustainability seriously from now on even can threaten the company’s mere existence. The three US canners have argued that they feel a ‘death knell’ with the ongoing litigations. "Faced with fines they already likely cannot pay and otherwise deteriorating financial conditions, any 'rational defendant' would doubtless 'feel irresistible pressure to settle', rather than risk a bet-the-company trial and potential exposure to $2.5 billion in damages," the canners argued in the class-action lawsuits.  Bumblebee is already considering a bankruptcy under chapter 11, according to Bloomberg earlier this month. The brand, for years under command of the flamboyant, former chair Chris Lischewski, has big problems paying its debts. Owner Lion Capital wants to sells of parts of the company.

On a personal level, this all may end in imprisonment of some of the former head figures in the tuna world. After endless delay, the trial against Bumblebee’s Mr. Lischewski on price fixing charges will start this fall, November 4. Lischewski is big game. Known for his long waving blond hair, he was for years an iconic figure in the tuna industry. As the former chair of the ISSF, he boasted a lot about the efforts to make the tuna fisheries more sustainable.  Mr. Lischewski might face serious jail time.

There is a smell of treason in the air in this drama of tuna-conspiracy. Former executives of the ‘Big Three’ that will witness in this case, will probably accuse Lischewski of being the man with the plan, as part of a deal they made with the prosecution. Among them two of Mr. Lischewski’s former Bumblebee marketing executives, former Starkist vice-president for sales Stephen Hodge and a former sales executive of Chicken of the Sea-owner Thai Union. The last one, John Sawyer, has already entered in a non-prosecution agreement after Chicken of the Sea worked with the authorities as the whistleblower in the case.

Is this a dagger I see before me? Shakespearean tuna drama indeed.

A sustainable, European Tuna Giant?


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As a tuna consumer you probably didn’t notice, but the tuna industry was hit by an earthquake. Or tsunami if you like that better. In July the Bolton Group, one of the giants in tuna trade, took over the tuna supply business of another giant in the market, Tri Marine.  Both names are hardly known outside the closed circuit of tuna business, specialists and other freaks. But the fact of the matter is that this is a major step of power concentration in the tuna business. And that has, inevitably, a fall out on the sustainability of tuna fisheries.

Mystery

Bolton, huge as it is, is a bit of a mystery. The privately-owned Group emerged in postwar The Netherlands as a trading and distribution company, owning small distribution companies in consumer goods in Italy. Founder-owner Joseph Nissim, a Jewish-Greek-Italian business man who had escaped Thessaloniki from the Nazi’s and fought bravely with the British army in World War II, kept an extremely low profile. He died earlier this year at the age of 100. Although a bigger than live character, and a ‘tuna-legend’, I never saw any interviews with him.

Just to get the picture: we are talking about the real big tuna traders in the chain of canned tuna, with strong vertically integrated tuna-interests. Unlike fishers, processors, brands and retailers, traders are usually not a very well-known part of the tuna world to the broader public. But in the chain, they play a powerful and often crucial role as lead firms. There are three big global traders in the chain for canned tuna:  Tri Marine, the Taiwanese FCF and the Japanese Itochu. The last one is a relative outsider that operates mostly as an entity on the Japanese market. FCF from Taiwan developed as a global trader from being owner of a vast fishing fleet. Tri Marine was originally an Italian government-owned tuna supplier based in Singapore. In the eighties Tri Marine privatized under the current CEO and president Renato Curto and his friends.

Background player

Bolton is a giant background player. It owned 40 % of the Tri Marine stock. It is the biggest brand-owner in Europe with shares in the leading Spanish Grupo Calvo and Grupo Garavilla producers, and owner of the Italian Rio Mare and Palmera and the French Saupiquet brands. As a private company, Bolton is still registered in The Netherlands, but with important working companies in Italy. It is an empire with fifty brands of household goods, twelve factories, forty-four offices and over five thousand employees. And now Bolton positioned itself even stronger in the tuna market by taking over Tri Marine’s tuna supply business, including its processing plants (like Sol Tuna) and the Solomon Island fishing company.

What does this European tuna giant mean in terms of sustainable policies? Bolton as a lead firm can matter much when it comes to sustainable tuna sourcing, producing and consuming. On first sight, the company is pretty aware of its role in the sustainability issue, with a special program called ’We Care’ that is displayed on its website. Looking more closely, the company is part of an initiative to reduce ghost gears. Last year It published a 3-page press release with an ambitious statement asserting that it will become “the most sustainable tuna company in the world”. That was based on the measures mentioned in its The Right Course Socio-Environmental Report published in 2017.

Commitments

Bolton’s core commitments to the Right Course are:

- by 2020 (next year), 50% of tuna procurements will be sourced from more selective fishing methods with a lower level of by-catch and environmental impact (pole and line, handline, artisanal small-scale sustainable vessels, and FAD-free purse seiners).

- Also, next year 50 percent of tuna procurements will be sourced from purse seiners with FAD management measures in place: those fishing only non-entangling FADs and with a maximum of 300 active drifting FAD per vessel.

- by 2024, 100 percent of its tuna will be sourced from MSC-certified fisheries or from ‘credible and “robust” fishery improvement projects (FIPs)’.

That all sounds nice.  But, as always,  the devil is in the details. Everybody with some notion about sustainability issues knows that the Spanish and Italian canned tuna brands have the worst record when it comes to offering certified sustainable products on the shelves, let alone on the information about it. So that has to be changed in 2024 (still five years to go) by sourcing sustainable from MSC or ‘robust’ FIPs.

Wait another five years?

First: why wait another five years if there is already a considerable amount of MSC certified tuna available on the market? Second: mind the ‘or’ in ‘MSC or ‘robust’ FIPs’. In 2024 most tuna fisheries of Bolton might be in FIPs, with only a few MSC-certified. That indicates a very slippery path: independent standards or supervision on the ‘robustness’ of FIPs are hardly available. FIPs are not sustainable tuna. With a little luck, a FIP is a declaration of good intentions to go for the MSC standard somewhere in the future. If you are less lucky, it works out as just a marketing tool to create a sustainable image. Like it has done many times before.

There are more worries on the issue of transparency and traceability of the tuna that will eventually be sourced in a sustainable way.  Traceability of the sustainable sourced tuna is key for the future of a sustainable product in the end market. It is actually the most heated battle-ground in tuna wars. How can I ever be sure as a consumer that the tuna on my plate is indeed that sustainable fished tuna that Bolton says it will be sourcing in 2024?

For a company that stresses the importance of sustainability in the supply chain, those guarantees are rather poor. Bolton mentions the Proactive Vessel Register (PVR) of the ISSF (where Bolton is an active member). With all due respect: this has not much to do with traceability of sustainable fished tuna in the chain. Then, there is an ISO certified traceability system in place (at Rio Mare) in one plant in Italy. Good, but not very impressive. Also, Bolton promises that there will be in some unspecified future on-pack information on the cans describing species, fishing oceans and fishing methods. It’s about time I would say. But unfortunately, this information ads more to the confusion for the poor consumer than it helps to solve it. Where is the accessible and transparent system where the consumer really can trust that the tuna in the can is a sustainable sourced product?

Resuming: Bolton’s intentions are certainly good. That is a positive starter. But as one of the most experienced, powerful and clever lead firms in tuna business they can do much better. Now keep our fingers crossed (and our eyes open) if Bolton really will find the pathway to sustainability. That would make a big leap for sustainable tuna and give Bolton’s image a real boost.

A plague of Giant Tuna?

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Two recent statements on tuna made to me recently, on different occasions.  ‘I don’t think I will ever again eat tuna. I don’t want to be co-responsible for wiping out a species.’ One week later: ‘Tuna is becoming a plague. It is robbing all our fish!’. First statement is from a troubled consumer in Amsterdam. The second of a troubled fisherman at Spain’s southern coastal town of Barbate.

Welcome in the crazy world of tuna.

It was, again, all about bluefin. These weeks the bluefin tuna fishing campaign in the Mediterranean and the Street of Gibraltar comes to an end. ‘There is more bluefin tuna than even old fishermen can remember having seen with their own eyes’, says my friend Diego Crespo from the south Spanish port of Barbate. I know Diego for over twenty years from the times I first went with the almadraba, the classical trap net fisheries that one can still find here next to beautiful coasts of Cádiz. It has been there since the times of the Phoenicians. The Crespo family runs one the almadrabas from the port of Barbate, a fishery community at the Atlantic side of the Street of Gibraltar.

If there exist such a thing as a list of the most influential fish, bluefin would be without any doubt the number one star. Of all the tuna species this majestic impressive tuna giant, has been a source of power and conflict, as I describe in my book Tuna Wars. It is not only our most ancient fish conserve on an industrial scale, with an history that goes way back 3000 years. Iconic as it is, blue fin tuna is the driving force behind the idea of many fish loving consumers, that eating tuna actually has to be situated somewhere in between a secret pleasure and a criminal act of whipping out an entire species. Was tuna (without distinction) not on the boarder of extinction? And if so, are we all in fact bad, bad tuna-eaters?

The reality of blue fin tuna, tuna in general, is slightly different, as is illustrated right now at the end of the bluefin tuna season. The freezing facility in the port of Barbate is working on maximum capacity to deep freeze the tons of caught bluefin. The 175 kilograms bluefin tuna are shot in the closed chamber of the trap net, taken to port, cleaned and cut into loins and deep frozen. Diego Crespo is waiting to buy some additional quota of his fellow handline fishers from the Canary Island and after using that, the blue fin fisheries will close for another year. It went fast, like everywhere around the Mediterranean. So abundant was the bluefin tuna that the colleagues at the Spanish East Coast fished their quota in just one week.

So now the complaints start that there is too much bluefin tuna. The tuna-fisheries of course want to have higher quota. But other coastal fisheries in the area here _ like anchovies, sardines and other local fish_ even start to complain that the huge schools of blue fin are plundering their stocks. ‘It is almost a plague’, Diego Crespo said. As a describe in my book Tuna Wars this is not new. In the second half of last century fishermen at the coast of Northern France and Norway started to chase bluefin tuna in their waters, not so much to eat it, as well as to kill that huge predator that was eating their catches.

This is a whole kind of different story than Diego used to tell me in the first decade of the century. Year after year he complained, like many other bluefin fishers, that the catch was dropping. Bluefin was being overfished due to the explosive demand of the Japanese sushi-market. Massive illegal, unregistered and unregulated fishery ruled the market. Fraud reigned in bluefin tuna. But that was the situation a decade ago. Fortunately, the management of the fisheries, in this case by the regional tuna authority ICCAT, kicked in.  And Bluefin proved to be a stronger stock than many feared. The Eastern Atlantic population bounced back and the quota are now gradually set higher from 22.700 ton in 2017 to 36.000 ton in 2020.

You might discuss if the quota are on the safe side or not (NGOs like PEW do not think so). But it is a fact that bluefin is moving away from the abyss of extinction. What stays is the strong impact of the campaigns of the leading NGOs to save bluefin tuna. Even after ten years part of the general public _ in particular consumers in the western markets _ is still haunted by this uncomfortable feeling that ‘something is wrong’ eating tuna. Even now most consumers do not realize that it was bluefin that planted the seed of guilt in their brain anyway.

What lessons can we learn from the blue fin tuna? First and foremost: pressure from the consumers and NGOs can change the management of stocks for the better. Management of stocks can work. But also: there is still a lot work to do when it comes to informing the public on what stocks of tuna we can eat without a bad conscious. And on what other tuna is still under pressure or has other sustainability issues that make the consumption undesirable.

Last question: Do you eat bluefin tuna? Yes, I do. Not a lot, but incidentally, like tasting a good wine. And only when I am sure it is sourced from the traditional almadraba, which I consider a very sustainable way to fish, with hardly any bycatch and an important social and economic benefits for the local fisheries communities of the south of Spain. It is an amazing fish to eat. Go to the El Campero restaurant in Barbate, or one of the local tuna festivals and you understand what I mean.  Let us hope not everybody falls massively for the charms of the bluefin, because than we might run into a repetition of problems. The future will learn if the management is able to resist the market pressure and keep a healthy stock.

World Ocean’s Dinner, or how to get sustainable fish on your plate

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It was a good way to celebrate this year’s World Oceans Day (every 8th of June): being at the fundraising Worlds Oceans Dinner at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin, an historic establishment in the Dutch coastal town of Noordwijk aan Zee, with views over the windy waters of the North Sea. Seas, or better Oceans, that is what World Oceans Day is about.

We still know relatively little on what is going beneath the surface of the waters that covers the mayor part of our Blue Planet. (Why bother to waste large amounts of money on trips to Mars or the Moon if there is still so much to discover in the waters that covers the mayor part of our Blue Planet, I sometimes wonder). What we do know is not very comforting. Sea levels are rising, habitats disappearing at a fast rate, coral reefs are threatened through changing chemical composition and temperature of the waters, plastic particles are now found practically everywhere in the ocean environment.  Changing currents may lead to unpredictable changes of the environment and extreme weather conditions. An increasing amount of species is under thread of extinction. Plagues of weeds, algae and jellyfish are increasingly bothering vast ocean areas. A growing amount of wild fish is getting overfished.

Reason enough to dedicate a day to our Oceans and stress the need for policies and governance that can fight the overwhelming amount of alarming issues in our waters.

The North Sea is not a world ocean in the strict sense, and more of an extension of the Northern Atlantic, but nonetheless a sea that has a great significance when it comes to issues of preserving our oceans. What about tuna? The good news is: bluefin tuna has made it’s come back in the North Sea. Disappeared in the seventies of the last century, the giant tuna, one of Europe’s greatest biological and cultural heritages is swimming around again, probably entering via its the Northern Atlantic migration route. This is (at least partly) an important result of improving stock management of ICCAT, the international management organization for Atlantic Tuna where the EU and its fisheries are the strongest stakeholder. The fact that they swim in the Northern waters is an indication of the new abundancy of this fish. And they find enough fish to feed on, which might get eventually a problem with their direct competitors: the fishermen.

There is more good news coming of the Mid and Northern European waters. After decades of painstakingly figuring out its Common Fisheries Policy, the European Union managed to put in place a governance that helped to recover important stocks of fish that once was overfished. Stocks of herring, plaice, sole, mackerel. Even the cod stock is making a slow come and sometimes difficult comeback. The fishing quota need our attention, and probably always will. But that does not alter the fact that policies and governance for sustainable fisheries as such have proved to work, even in complicated geostrategic areas like the North Sea.

No bluefin tuna on the menu of the World Ocean’s Dinner though. The organizing Good Fish Foundation, a Dutch NGO that has developed a handy app to inform consumers what fish is sustainable to eat, had chosen local fish and shellfish that are abundant enough to put on the menu. The invited chefs where competing to create the most innovative dishes with this local supply. The result was a surprising, healthy and sustainable 11- course meal.

The chefs in the kitchen are an essential link in the chain to sustainability, more essential than most of them realize. The Good Fish Foundation is working hard to improve the consciousness of chefs in restaurants and bars of what sustainable seafood they can offer their clients and what not. For who believes that demand really matters in steering a fishery to a more sustainable course, this is important work. There is still a lot to do: most cooks in The Netherlands (and elsewhere in the world) do not have a clue where the fish is coming from or how it is fished, let alone the state of the stocks, the amount of bycatch, the use of bait fish,  the environmental impact, the status of social responsibility and other sustainability issues of the fish they cook. And even if they do, many are still in a search what all the ecological labels, certifications, sustainability claims really mean.

Fish apps like the one of the Good Fish Foundation of the American Monterrey Bay Aquarium really can help. But there is still much work to do to inform and educate the professional sector about the fish they like to serve. During the World Ocean’s Dinner, the World Oceans Deal was signed, in which 21 chefs and their suppliers promised to act like World Oceans Ambassadors to promote healthy oceans full of fish. Changing the demand for sustainable fish is not an easy task. What can these professionals do? They can show themselves as examples that a sustainable supply can work. They can promote it in their professional organizations and help to inform their colleagues. They could force the suppliers upstream in the chain to deliver a record of transparent and traceable origin of their fish. And, very important, they can convince the academies that learn their students to cook and buy seafood to make sustainability an integral part of the study course. That could really make a change.’

A new wave helping retailers purchasing sustainable tuna?

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What will be the next step in steering the tuna fisheries towards a more sustainable course? That was the question popping up in last week’s Tuna Night at the new MSC Belgium headquarters in the center of Antwerp. A selected audience of industry, government, research and trade was invited to figure out a ‘recipe’ for a sustainable tuna industry in the future. They were in search for a new wave in quest for sustainable tuna.

Director Hans Verhoeven of the Belgium based market research iVOX presented an interesting Belgian consumer market audit. The conclusion: the consumer has some dedication to ocean sustainability issues, but this did not translated yet into his or her behavior as buyers in the seafood market. There is a certain trust in ecolabels for seafood, but many don’t know where to look for. The knowledge on tuna is rudimentary and mostly limited to the vague notion that there is some kind of problem with overfishing. Part of the consumer public even don’t buy tuna, because they think the fish is ‘on the boarder of extinction’.

The good news is, one would say, that the notion of sustainability is embedded with the Belgian consumers. In the Antwerp Tuna Night, many participants expressed the conviction that sustainability has become an issue that is there to stay. A remarkable milestone that was less than self-evident a decade ago, when a wave of worries about the collapsing stock of the Atlantic bluefin tuna pushed sustainable tuna on the agenda.

Ten years later we might conclude that the bluefin is saved thanks to many factors among which a better management of the tuna stocks. As a result, sustainable tuna fisheries are becoming less a priority in the campaigns of many NGOs. It has become more of a mainstream issue in the broader discussions around responsible food chains. Many stakeholders in tuna fisheries, and not only in Belgium, have the feeling that we need a new wave for sustainability. The challenge is to explore ways to make it happen when it comes to buying tuna.

Let’s go back to the original idea that sustainable fisheries can be driven by demand. The so-called Theory of Change is the driving principle behind market-based certification schemes like MSC. The idea is that if the market knows where to look for (the right label), demand for more sustainable tuna will grow. The chain will have to deliver according to this changing demand.

Scholars (1) have already concluded that the original Theory of Change (version 1.0) was succeeded by newer versions. Originally it was thought that consumer at the end of the chain would steer the sustainable demand. But NGO’s started to direct their activities towards retailers instead (version 2.0), after the strategy of influencing consumers proofed to have limited results. Then, to address the supposedly limited quantity of sustainable supply, the NGOs started their own sustainability schemes, like Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs). Meanwhile, suppliers and distributors came with their own commitments, like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), the Atún de Pesca Responsable or FAD-free labels. (version 3.0)

That is where we are now. The retailers can choose between a range of certifications and commitments on sustainability. On first sight that seems a good thing: let thousand sustainable certifications and commitments blossom and compete. But the negative effects are evident: the quality of the sustainability schemes that are offered widely varies. There is a natural tendency for a race to the bottom: all kind of semi-certifications are entering the market that are designed to give the product a sustainable image, while in reality the contribution to sustainable tuna fisheries is doubtful. That can end in an ugly way, like the recent US criminal court case for consumer fraud using the Dolphin Safe label. (see my blog).

This has to change. Of course, state intervention might end this practice of messy certifications and commitments. But it might well be that the national authorities will take their time to intervene in this complicated battlefield of Tuna Wars. The interests at stake are high. Meanwhile, the retailers carry the burden to find out what is sustainable tuna and what not. A tricky business that is not without risks.

So, it might well be that we need a Theory of Change version 4.0 in which a new actor will enter the seafood chain: an independent adviser who steers the retailers in purchasing their sustainable tuna and advises on the risks of the different schemes available. Maybe this new kid on the block is the ‘recipe’ for a new wave towards sustainable tuna fisheries.

(1)      C. A. Roheim, S. R. Bush, F. Asche, J. N. Sanchirico and H. Uchida, Evolution and future of the sustainable seafood market, Springer Nature Sustainability, Volume 1, August 2018, 392-398, https://www.nature.com/natsustain/

 

The end of Dolphin Safe in Tuna Wars?

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It may have taken several decades, but we now might be looking at the beginning of the wreckage of the Dolphin Safe label. This week American consumers started a class-action lawsuit for fraud and racketeering against the Big Three US tuna brands, Bumble Bee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea. (http://disq.us/t/3epuvpx) The consumers feel deceived, we read in the complaint.  ‘The “Dolphin-Safe” label signifies that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured as a result of the catching of the tuna contained in their products. But the suppliers’ tuna fishing practices “kill or harm substantial numbers of dolphins each year.”  

Many in the tuna industry and the sustainable seafood movement with some knowledge about sustainable fisheries have been waiting for this moment. The Dolphin Safe label is already for years the elephant in the room of sustainable fisheries that most people prefer to deny. From a well-respected, successful certification in the nineties, that helped to eradicate the massive Dolphin slaughter in the Yellowfin tuna fisheries in the Eastern Pacific, the Dolphin Safe label evolved into a practically useless tool in making look all tuna fisheries more sustainable. It even is far from robust enough to guarantee its own claims for a totally dolphin harmless tuna fisheries.

This is serious business. The Dolphin Safe label can be found on tuna cans all over the world. It is probably the most widespread label, used by all the big tuna industry that is united in the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). If a court decides that Dolphin Safe proves to be a kind of compulsory greenwashing scheme, a tool mainly supporting market interests, this would have devastating effects on the credibility of sustainability certification in general. Why, the public will rightly ask, was this label allowed for such a long time on so many cans? How can we trust that other certifications are any better?

The success for using ‘Dolphin Safe’ comes to no surprise: it hardly cost any effort for the big brands, fisheries and traders in terms of measures to make their tuna business look more sustainable. The history of Dolphin Safe has its murky sides too: who did not want to ‘collaborate’ with the label and its organisation (Earth Island Institute) could face problems in the tuna business. So, it was better to let yourself squeezed into the scheme instead of making life difficult. Meanwhile the strong ‘Flipper’ related Dolphin Safe image managed to survive with fluffy journalism that supported its noble cause but was not able to unravel the powerplay behind the screens. Notable exceptions, like the 2015 K. William Watson article in Forbes (‘Dolphin Safe’ labels on Canned Tuna are a Fraud’) never got the attention they deserved.

In my book ‘Tuna Wars’, that will be published soon by Springer Nature, I write about the three ‘Flipper Wars’ that have raged in the tuna world. The Dolphin Safe label was an effective weapon for the tuna industry in these wars. The Big Three effectively used the label as a barrier for competitive Mexican imports entering their home market. Meanwhile, Dolphin Safe expanded from its origins in the Eastern Pacific to the Western and Central Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, where the setting of nets on Dolphins never was an issue as such and the claims of the scheme (not one single dolphin killed or harmed!) where practically impossible and unmonitored. Meanwhile the big players used Dolphin Safe to hinder the entrance in the tuna fisheries of the much more robust certification of the MSC.  

Fraud and racketeering have still to be proved in court for sure. The case is messy. The consumer plaintiffs are very much underlining the objective of no harm to any dolphins whatever as the highest standard for sustainable tuna fisheries. They are right that the Big Three created a false representation of such a full proof dolphin safe fishery with the Dolphin Safe label. But they are wrong in suggesting that the MSC certification is also making a false statement when it comes to dolphins that are caught in tuna fisheries. This is missing the point: MSC is about sustainable tuna fisheries, not sustainable dolphin fisheries. It works with multiple standards that go far beyond the single issue of dolphin safety. From this point of view, also the idea that pole and line and handline are the only sustainable gears (as the plaintiffs argue) is far away from reality and practically useless.

It is now for the court to decide. Let us hope that at least its verdict facilitates a start to mop up the mess, and open ways for further development of credible sustainable tuna certification.