Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Safe program has issued a letter to David Dillon, CEO of Kroger Stores, over Kroger's stocking of what the campaign group sees as 'dolphin deadly' canned tuna.
Kroger, largest US retailer in terms of turnover, has reportedly begun stocking Dolores Tuna, fished by Mexican firm Pinsa, which is apparently setting nets on dolphins.
Pinsa's purse seine fleets operate with dolphin mortality limits, and chase and net dolphins in the Tropical Eastern Pacific, Mark Berman, associate director of the International Marine Mammal Project at Earth Island Institute, told Undercurrent News.
“Consumers have brought to our attention that Kroger Stores is selling Dolores brand tuna,” reads the letter sent to Dillon from Berman and the project's director, David Phillips. “As Kroger is claiming to adhere to new standards for sustainable seafood products, we find this very disturbing.”
In 1999 Kroger had committed to sourcing 'dolphin safe' tuna, stating in a letter to Phillips that “we certainly recognize the importance of the dolphin safe label to our customers”.
“Our tuna suppliers are required to submit evidence to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) documenting that the fish used in the manufacture of canned tuna imported into the US originates from vessels which are completely 'dolphin safe',” wrote Joseph Pichler, chairman and CEO of Kroger in 1999.
“Kroger brand tuna will continue to be 100% dolphin safe,” he added. This continues to be true – all other canned tuna stocked by Kroger, including its private label, remains dolphin safe.
Dolores Tuna has led a campaign with the Mexican government to try and change US environmental law through the WTO, said Berman.
“Dolores Tuna and the government of Mexico claim not to harm dolphins when their tuna boats chase and net the dolphins, but this is untrue,” the letter to Kroger reads. “US research by the NMFS shows that even when no dolphins are observed to die in the nets, the baby dolphins are left behind during the chase phase, resulting in continued damage to the populations of dolphins in Mexican and international waters. These populations are still considered depleted by the NMFS.”
The Dolphin Safe program will now be informing consumers of the apparent contradiction in Kroger's commitment to sustainability and encouraging them not to buy from the retailer. If it is not successful in opening a dialogue in a week, the NGO will launch a consumer awareness campaign, Berman said.
The NGO has published a post on its blog inviting consumers to send a polite letter to Kroger CEO Dillon, also encouraging him to change the store's sourcing policy.
Californian retail chain Save Mart Supermarkets recently stopped stocking Dolores tuna after Dolphin Safe informed them of the fishing company's catching practices, Berman said.
Kroger Stores did not respond to requests for comment.
'Unfair trade restrictions'
In April 2014 Earth Island Institute backed the US’ decision to challenge a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) review over its use of the dolphin-safe labeling as unfair trade restriction.
Mexico argues that the US is using the label to unfairly discriminate against tuna imports from its own producers. The case has been with the WTO since 2009; in its latest review, the organization re-iterated its partial backing for Mexico’s claim of unfair discrimination, but said Mexico’s proposed solution was not helpful.
The long-running argument continued at May's Infofish Tuna conference in Bangkok, where Dolphin Safe came under fire in an aggressive speech by Luis Fleischer, representative of CONAPESCA at the Mexican embassy in Washington DC.
More measured was Henk Brus of Pacifical who, like Mexico, feels EII and the Dolphin Safe label are restricting trade into the US. He presented an apparently independent study which found the NGO was engaging in bullying tactics to gain money in return for the use of its label.