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The ecological disaster that is dolphin safe tuna

February 16, 2009

croppedThis  is a rare cross post between my regular Monday “Ethical Debate” a soon-to-be-regular series entitled “Dolphins are actually jerks”, and a soon-to-be-regular series entitled “Hippie Hypocrisy: People who try (but fail) to help”.

Most environmental activists (indeed, most people) have heard the phrase “dolphin safe tuna”, but few know the details other than that it is tuna captured in a way that is better for dolphins.

Before we get into the ethical debate itself, here’s some background on the tuna fishery, and on what “Dolphin safe” actually means.

Tuna is one of the world’s most economically important fisheries, directly employing tens of thousands and feeding millions. The main way that tuna is caught is through purse seines in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Basically, after a large group of tuna is located, a miles-across purse seine net is closed around them via a group of small boats associated with a large factory ship.  It’s an effective way to catch large amounts of fish for not a lot of money.

This technique is pretty standard- the main variation lies in how the large group of tuna is located. There are basically three ways to do this.

1) Get lucky and happen to stumble across a large group of tuna visible from the surface in the middle of an enormous ocean. Obviously, this isn’t terribly practical.

2) Attract tuna using floating objects.  Stay tuned, we’ll come back to #2.

3) Follow dolphins, because dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific are often associated with large schools of tuna. Dolphins are easy to follow because, unlike tuna, they have to come up for air.

For a long time, #3 was the most common way of catching tuna. The problem with this method was that by definition, dolphins are right there- and they get caught in the net as well. Despite the honest effort of many sailors to free dolphins (there is a long maritime tradition of respecting dolphins), by some estimates, around 500,000 dolphins a year were killed as a result of bycatch.

As a result of pressure from environmental activist groups like Greenpeace,  it became illegal to fish using method #3, and we now have what is called “dolphin safe tuna”. Technically this means only that the tuna isn’t harvested by searching for dolphins associated with a school of tuna, something that many environmental groups think isn’t a strong enough definition.

Recall that method #1 isn’t feasible. Tuna fishing fleets rapidly switched over to method #2, attracting tuna using floating objects.

It is poorly understood why fish in the open ocean flock in such huge numbers to floating objects, but is a near universal phenomenon. If you put a log in the middle of the ocean, within hours it will be surrounded by fish. It may have something to do with the fact that many open ocean fish can go their entire lives without encountering a hard surface.

The floating objects now used by tuna fishing fleets are quite high tech- they have sonar and video cameras that allow the flagship to detect how many fish are near that object. Once there are enough, the purse seine comes and scoops them all up- and the floating object is redeployed.

The big problem with this method is that floating objects don’t only attract tuna. EVERYTHING is attracted to floating objects, including sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, billfish, and, yes, dolphins!

Let’s compare the bycatch rates of floating object associated tuna and dolphin associated tuna.

“Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.”

“Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

In other words… the only species that “dolphin safe” tuna is good for is dolphins!  The bycatch rate for EVERY OTHER species is lower when fishing dolphin-associated tuna vs. floating object associated tuna! The reason for this is obvious- floating objects attract everything nearby, while dolphins following tuna doesn’t attract any other species.

If you work out the math on this (and you don’t have to, because the environmental justice foundation did) , you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.

By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.

Here we get into the ethical debate.

Is it worth saving dolphins, who were not and are not endangered, at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other fish species who are endangered?

To make this debate more interesting, I am taking the options of “just stop fishing for tuna” and “come up with another way” off the table- it’s simply not going to happen in reality, anyway.

Should we fish for tuna using dolphin associated schools and save sharks, sea turtles, and dozens of species of fish… or should we fish for tuna using “dolphin safe” floating object associated schools and wipe out the populations of many species of sharks (some populations have shown a 75% decline since “dolphin safe” tuna came onto the scene? In other words, what is more valuable- 1 dolphin, or so much else?

Personally, I think this is a classic example of the false value our society places on marine mammals, something that Andrew has already written about quite a bit. I think to wipe out the populations of so many other species in order to save a few individual dolphins (recall, dolphin populations aren’t threatened by dolphin-associated fishing, though lots die) is ludicrous.

I think we should go back to fishing dolphin-associated sets AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and hope that the damage done to shark, seabird, sea turtle, and large fish populations by the dolphin-safe disaster is fixable.

As a side note, our 43rd President, George W Bush, attempted to help on this issue by changing what dolphin safe means… but environmental groups  stopped him. Go team.

As another side note, fisherman I’ve spoken to and read interviews with are horrified by the bycatch that floating object fishing causes and would like to return to the old ways, if only we will legally allow them to do so.


UPDATE: (added June 29, 2009). This post is starting to get a lot of attention, and some people are missing the point. There are a few things I would like to address because I don’t want to say this fifty times in the comments.

1) The comparison of 70 thousand to 130 million SMALL tuna is listing small tuna as bycatch. They are trying to catch BIG tuna. Catching small tuna is bad- they are less meat per fish (therefore more work), and it’s less sustainable because you’re killing the fish before they reproduce.

2) I’m restricting debate to the two methods of seining NOT because I believe those are the only two options, but because this post is PART OF A SERIES called “Ethical Debates” and I always restrict the debate because it makes the discussion more interesting. Please stop saying I’m arrogant, ignorant, stupid, or things of this nature because I restricted the debate to two unpleasant choices. I did that because it makes the discussion more interesting and for no other reason.

3) What can you do? Either don’t eat tuna or eat “Marine Stewardship Council” approved sustainable tuna, which is caught by rod and reel and has no bycatch. However, it is much more expensive, and is hard to find.

Update: Thanks to everyone who helped vote for this post in the 2009 3 Quarks Daily science blogging prize!

Top 20! Woo hoo!

Top 20! Woo hoo!

Top 7! Hooray!

Top 7! Hooray!

2nd Place!

2nd Place!

213 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelley permalink
    February 16, 2009 4:19 pm

    Although you make an excellent point, it seems unlikely that groups such as Greenpeace and the wonderfully reasonable and sympathetic organization Sea Shepherd (sarcasm) would never let changes such as this happen (Paul Watson isn’t afraid of ramming into Japanese whaling vessels, so I doubt he would leave tuna boats alone…)

    They spent years telling people how smart and friendly dolphins are, and they will just rally again if this was to happen.

  2. Fred W permalink
    February 16, 2009 4:39 pm

    You’re raising a very good point!
    Here’s an other impact of dolphin-safe tuna: Purse-seine nets (seen as indiscriminate) have been replaced by long-lines in many fisheries due to pressure from “dolphin lovers”.

    Long-lines are notorious for their large shark bycatch, which used to be a nuisance because shark occupy baited hooks or simply bite them off, which reduces the tuna catch and increases material costs. Coming in at a time of increased prices for shark products (the mid-1990s) this practice has not only led to tuna fishermen “tolerating” (or one could say “welcoming”) shark bycatch (because its a valuable income on the side), but actually created many shark fisheries in the first place.

    Many of the thousands of dedicated shark long-liners would not be out there without dolphin-safe tuna!

  3. February 16, 2009 6:26 pm

    You raise a very good point, and I’ve not honestly ever looked into what “dolphin-safe” means. However, given that your information is correct (I trust you) it’s a completely ethical question.

    Your limitations really make this as much of an ethical debate as abortion is.

    I do think that the public is almost entirely motivated by what’s cute- let’s save the dolphins, seals, penguins, et cetera and let all those scary sharks, whales and other things we don’t see very often deal with humans themselves.

    Darn you and your limitations- there are other viable alternatives to solve this problem, or at least, they seem to be in the whole couple minutes of thought I’ve given this. I’m kind of landlocked, so I don’t know too much about the oceanic fisheries (freshwater fisheries, on the other hand…I grew up a couple miles away from Lake Michigan in the US).

    Anyways, I do think that the intelligence of dolphins does have to be taken into account– since our society (seems) to value intelligence so much. However, does that balance out the other thousands of fish that die? I don’t think so.

    Here’s an idea- the dolphins killed by “dolphin unsafe” tuna could be sent to Japan to try and ease up on their dolphin hunt. I understand that it’s tradition, but it was Slobodan Milosevic’s tradition to kill Croats and that was stopped. Dolphins are intelligent, and if they have to be killed for food in the name of tradition, but really…there are more ethical ways to do it.

    Also, marine conservation organizations (you know, the ones based in science) could try to work more with more “radical” conservation groups (Greenpeace, which I don’t think has any scientific base or any idea what they’re doing, and Sea Shepherd, which, while I agree with their tactics, I don’t so much agree on all their campaigns) to give them a more accurate perception of the scientific facts behind what they’re trying to “save.”

    Anyways, I agree– “dolphin safe” should at the very least be reformed.

    As a side note in relation to your side note, I really don’t think Mr. Bush would have done anything beneficial to the reformation of the dolphin-safe label. He didn’t do anything to help Senator Kerry’s far-superior anti-shark finning laws, and his incompetence in handling affairs with the International Whaling Commission really show his level of adroitness in handling all affairs of marine ecology. But maybe that’s just me and my black outlook on just about everything about his administration.

    I feel like I have more to say, but I can’t think of it. I’ll mull it over, do some research, possibly make a post on my blog (linked to in my name, I’m still experimenting with it and it’s not working out too well) and probably post again a little later.

  4. Lisa permalink
    February 16, 2009 7:12 pm

    As much as we all love dolphins (and let’s be honest most of us really do love them – be that a product of brain washing or not) one cannot be an environmentalist and honestly argue that the ‘sacrificing’ of a few who are not endangered is not preferable to the long term devastation of many species. From an ecological view point it seems to be a clear decision. Let’s also not forget that if all the others species of fish that are by-caught under the ‘floating objects’ go into serious decline then the dolphins food sources will also be under threat which will, of course, affect the dolphins adversely in the long run.

    It’s kind of like cutting off one’s nose to spite ones face.

    HOWEVER I don’t think that there is any likely hood what-so-ever of turning public opinion on this one – at least probably not soon enough to do any good.

  5. Mina permalink
    February 17, 2009 11:44 am

    Why not take into account the effect that the overfishing of Tuna has on Tuna stocks and on the marine ecosystem overall? Is there actually such a thing as sustainable Tuna fishing using any method?

    Whilst we’re talking about bycatch, why not consider prawns/shrimp? The level of bycatch there is just horrific.

    Anyway, IMHO it’s time to stop eating Tuna – trust me, it really doesn’t make that much of a dent in your diet!

    • mutchock permalink
      December 3, 2009 9:15 pm

      oh wow did mina say stop eating tuna…… that can only come via a tree hugging vegitarian. lets face the facts neither are endangerd and you have to break a few eggs to make an omlet. I AM NOT SAYING i condone killing dolphins, but c’mon its like dear hunting wich i dont do either but if we eat what we kill and its not just for sport then it is not a bad thing. all i know is if this were 100 yrs ago you would probably starve. the fact of the matter is if we were not ment to eat animals they wouldnt be made of meat!!!! Now im going to eat my tuna fish sandwiches ta ta fer now.

      • Lisa permalink
        January 6, 2010 5:39 pm

        Tree hugging vegetarian? That just shows how ignorant people really are. Instead of considering the idea, just throw a cheap insult and opinion in there and call yourself smart. People who eat tuna aren’t hunting, people who eat anything bought from a store that has meat in it, aren’t hunting. To compare todays meat processes with old school hunting tatics isn’t even apples to oranges. It’s apples to plywood. If you were to get a fishing pole, and fish for the food you were going to feed your family that night, you would be killing one or two fish and eating it that night. You wouldn’t be netting in other animals, or catching massive amounts of food and letting it rot in your freezer. If you talk to people who hunt deer, you’ll find that their diet will consist of mostly deer meat, that they share it with their family, and that most of the deer is used. You’ll also find that they don’t have any left to throw out befor the next season. When ”hunting’ is done in huge proportions such as fishing boats, and meat factories, the animals go through massive abuse, are usually full of chemicals or fed unhealthy food (there for, your meat has less and less nutrition) and most of it doesn’t even get eaten b/c people let it go bad in the fridge, or it doesn’t sell fast enough in stores. That or the animals end up being so f*cked up from being ill they just kill them and throw them out. Maybe instead of considering people who don’t eat meat, or don’t recommend it “tree hugging hippies” you could consider the fact that they may have a decent idea of what’s going on. Hell, beyond animal rights, look at what it does to your body. Why do you think everyone is so damn fat? No one sticks to serving sizes. Maybe if people went fishing to get their food, instead of relying on giant ships with nets (not so advanced) that just grab whatever the hell is there, they’de find less damages to everyone. Ie- get off your ass and hunt your own food, or don’t eat it.

  6. February 17, 2009 11:56 am

    Unless you live in many pacific countries where tuna is a major component of your diet. There are very few people in the world who have the luxury of choosing what they eat.

    • Carolyn Thaler permalink
      February 2, 2010 7:02 pm

      Hi Andrew,
      Loved the picture of Dad and Amy with Charlie.
      Fun weekend. Hi to Amy,
      Love, Mom

  7. February 17, 2009 12:34 pm

    Andrew makes a good point. Other than the reality that he brings up, the rules of this debate specifically say that you have to choose between two choices and not pick another one. It makes the debate more interesting.

  8. February 17, 2009 3:07 pm

    Excellent post, David. Other victims of “dolphin safe” longline fishing are albatrosses, which mature slowly and have an extremely low reproductive rate, giving bird conservation advocates a reason to support a return to dolphin-based tuna hunting.

  9. Dave B. permalink
    February 19, 2009 12:37 am

    Once again, you make a valid point. Unfortunately, both of the options that you “took off the table” will never happen anyways. Our friends in EVERY fishing industry will never let that happen, be it because they would lose profits, or have to pay more to keep doing what they do so well. I’ve worked with dolphins at the Seaquarium in Miami (though not very closely) and although they are a) very intelligent and b)extremely friendly, they are only as smart as we allow them to be. On the other hand, humans (no offense) are not as smart as we’d like to think we are. Most people don’t realize the ruin upon most marine species – be they mammal or otherwise – that they support when they buy most types of fish, and almost anything else at the grocery store. Packaging is responsible for the death of fish, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and everything in between. The fact that dolphins are not yet endangered is a good point, David… and although some species of shark are, not all exist in that category. Sea turtles are another issue entirely. I would have to say that the best solution to this debate, under your parameters, would be to give up “dolphin safe” fishing, i.e. using the floating object apparatus, and to go back to the old ways of fishing for tuna. As your colleague mentioned, tuna is a HUGE portion of the daily diet of many countries in the pacific, and therefore suggesting that we not altogether stop tuna fishing, but cut back on it, is not a legitimate response either. Like what has happened with whales, and with shark finning, people will continue to do it unhampered by the laws that we or another country/entity place protecting or restricting tuna. The main problem with returning to the old dolphin-dangerous fishing of tuna is this: What will you say when, in (we have no idea how long, but say – ) ten, twenty, or fifty years, we have effectively wiped out dolphin populations? At the expense of dolphins, we will save sharks and sea turtles – and effectively destroy another important sector of the ocean’s predator-prey circle? I’d love to know what you have to say on that… Great choice of parameters, by the way – very stimulating

    Dave B. in Miami

    • Claire permalink
      July 5, 2009 12:36 am

      I find it rather hard to believe that purse seining would wipe out the entire population of dolphins. If I remember correctly (and I will putter off to look this up shortly), before said dolphin safe laws were passed, the fishermen were letting the dolphins out of the back of the net, therefore killing zero dolphins as opposed to the original one. That seems highly sustainable, wouldn’t you agree?

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        July 5, 2009 10:36 am


        Before the dolphin safe laws were passed is when the dolphins were being killed by the tens or hundreds of thousands. Yes, fisherman made a good faith effort to release dolphins, but many were still killed. However, not nearly enough were being killed to threaten the entire population, and there was almost no other bycatch other than dolphins.

      • Claire permalink
        July 5, 2009 9:10 pm

        Ah. Thanks for the info!

  10. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 19, 2009 1:05 pm

    Dave (and others),

    I’m glad that you guys like this debate- I’m very pleased with the discussion we’re having.

    It seems like most people are in favor of fishing for dolphin-associated tuna schools instead of the present “dolphin-safe” method of fishing for floating-object associated tuna schools. As you can probably guess, I completely agree!

    In response to your specific question, Dave- in ten or twenty or fifty years, if dolphin populations start collapsing as a result of fishing for dolphin associated tuna schools, I think we should take another look at this issue. However, I don’t think that will happen for a variety of reasons.

    1) Dolphin populations were never seriously threatened when we were doing this before. Lots of them died but not remotely enough to worry about the population collapsing.

    2) Unlike sharks and sea turtles, dolphins can jump over a floating net to escape- the ones at places like Miami Seaquarium demonstrate that behavior daily. For some reason they DON’T usually do this, but they sometimes do.

    3) If there are enough tuna in fifty years to warrant fishing on a scale that threatens dolphin populations, I will eat a salad (those of you who know me know how big a deal that is for me, I’m a strict carnivore).

    Good points, all. I hope we can keep this discussion going!

    • Justin permalink
      June 30, 2009 1:58 am

      The reason why they don’t jump out of nets is the same reason craw fish don’t leave their traps or crabs don’t just move on (there traps are just baskets with an open door). They have s huge abundance of easily caught food in there immediate location. It’s like someone placed a net at an all you can eat buffet, sure you can leae, but you’d really like to fill up for a while.

      • Justin permalink
        June 30, 2009 2:01 am

        Dammit, why is there no edit button? I’d like to point out that I know I used the wrong ‘There, their, they’re’ and upon posting realize I look I’m retarded.

  11. eheupel permalink
    February 20, 2009 10:48 am

    One thing I don’t know if others caught, but is also very important in this ethical consideration, is the difference in the age structure of the catch between free roaming schools and floating objects, which David does show in the quote.

    Since we’re talking tropical tuna I’ll limit myself to the Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna, although other tuna do follow similar life histories. (Don’t even get me going on year 0, “Pan fried” bluefin tuna fishery.) Tuna that aggregate to floating objects are younger, smaller, and predominantly immature. The tuna catch off these floating aggregation devices is almost exclusively immature tuna. Purse seine fishing and long lining takes a mix of age classes and sizes but is predominantly composed of mature fish. This has very significant implications for the tuna stocks themselves and the sustainability of the fishery.

  12. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 21, 2009 4:30 pm

    Eheupel raises a very good point- dolphin safe tuna is actually also worse FOR THE TUNA. One of the main reasons that the tuna fishery is so unsustainable is that the floating objects do, as Eheupel says, attract primarily juvenile, pre-reproductive age tuna. Dolphin associated schools are generally mature.

    By taking so many tuna out of the population before they can reproduce, the dolphin safe method makes fishing for tuna incredibly unsustainable.

    Thank you for raising such a great point.

  13. Sweetwater Tom permalink
    February 22, 2009 3:00 pm

    A lot of interesting points raised here. Much grist for my mill.

    Another point that I have been considering is the ranking of species in some form of heirarchy. In the US we tend to value our pets highly. Most of us would rebel at the thought of eating a dog or horse. We recognize them as having some intelligence and personality. We value them above fish, cows, etc.

    What if Flipper (or any such marine mammal) had the same intelligence and personality as Fido? I am sure many people do see dolphins that way, and thus the public outrage at the abuse of dolphins. What about whales? They are much harder to get up close and personal with. How do we judge their intelligence and personality?

    To take it a step further, someone in France sued to have a chimpanzee declared a person. This chimp was a lab animal and some people wanted him to retire and have a good life. Should some animals have greater legal protection than others?

    So, how do we judge the value of a mahi-mahi compared to a bottle-nose dolphin? I wish I had the answer.

    BTW, dolphins are protected in the US by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. I don’t know if that applies outside US waters.

    I wish all of us the best

    • Claire permalink
      July 5, 2009 12:39 am

      Coryphaenus hippurus is much tastier than Tursiops truncatus.
      At least, I would like to think so, given that they don’t let me eat dolphin mammal over here.
      Sorry, I couldn’t resist😛

  14. February 24, 2009 12:27 am

    I’d no idea about this. Thanks for raising the debate. Right now I’m not sure what to think except that there is no ideal solution.

    Fishing is destructive in one shape or another pretty much no matter what we are fishing for. Fish stocks of many species are becoming smaller and smaller because of rules which allow catch of large fish, thus causing artificial selection for small size. The best method that I know of to allow recovery of fishing stocks is the creation of strictly enforced marine reserve areas where no fishing is allowed. These have been shown to actually increase fish available for catch because they act as breeding sanctuaries which then overflow into surrounding waters.

    Maybe it would be advisable to float objects in the marine sanctuaries to attract breeding stock of all the ocean life we’d like to protect.

  15. Craig Nazor permalink
    February 24, 2009 1:06 am

    Dolphin-safe tuna has been a lie for years – I quit eating tuna years ago. No traditional culture has ever relied on a tuna fishery as a major component of their diet. It is currently not being fished sustainably anyway – the discussion becomes more of one about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic than about one that sheds more light on the real problem.

    All major commercial fisheries, if persued at present rates, are predicted to be commercially extinct by 2050, according to a 2008 UN report. Keeping that in mind, the bycatch amounts on the given “choices” are unacceptable to me. What kind of choices are these? – Gee, should we take the patient and bleed him to death slowly out of the femoral artery, or should we just randomly pound thin, long needles into his body until we hit a major organ – wait, wait, no complaining, it’s either-or, since “reality” is forcing us to kill him anyway, and if you don’t do it, someone else will…

    Well, guess what? I won’t approve or support either one, and you risk losing the support of others that feel the way I do by limiting the options to only that which is unacceptable.

    So, while others fiddle as Rome burns, I have decided not to eat ANY seafood, for starters. If humans would do it right, there could be enough ethically caught seafood for us to eat, but you have already stated essentially that IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, so logically and morally, what’s the choice? I invite you to join me.

    A bit of a reality check: the off-the-cuff statements about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) show a real ignorance about that organization. Now I understand that some may not like them, fair enough, but it would be nice if there had been a reality-based argument to put forward for discussion. A few pieces of information about why I say this:

    The Discovery Channel show “Whale Wars” that featured the SSCS 2007-08 campaign in the Antarctic was one of the top ten highest rated cable televisions series last year, and judging from what I know of the most recent campaign, the 2008-09 series ought to be an even bigger hit. That has been very good for their fundraising. The SSCS also just won the Dutch Postcode Lottery award, which is 500,000 Euros, so like them or not, they will be a conservation force to deal with for the next few years. They are also currently helping the Ecuadorian Environmental Police enforce laws prohibiting illegal shark-finning operations in the Galapagos Islands. Seems to me that you might at least consider them as allies, if the goal is saving sharks.

    • Claire permalink
      July 5, 2009 12:47 am

      I am very interested in finding out what it is you DO eat.
      Beef? Poor cow. Chicken? Poor fowl. Vegan? Poor plants.
      I hate to tell you this, my dear, but you are a consumer. You are not a plant, and therefore, for you to eat, something has to die. What you choose to kill is your decision, but let’s face it: you have to kill something.
      Just figured I’d throw out a random thought. I’d prefer using the dolphin unsafe method, myself. Off to look up that factoid now though.

      • Lisa permalink
        January 6, 2010 5:50 pm

        There’s a difference between an aware consumer, and a selfish one. It’s not always about what you eat, or don’t eat, but how much of it you waste, and the process of which it is gathered. There isn’t a fair way to kill a plant or animal, but there is often a smarter way. I dislike both dolphine safe and any other mass farmed fishing methods. This is why I wouldn’t eat fish unless someone with a fishing pole caught it. I live in ohio. there’s no need for me to eat a lot of meat b/c we have plenty of vegetable and fruit farms. The land here is fine for plant farming, and you can get as much nutrition from plants as you can from meat if you pay attention to how you prepair and which ones you eat. Now if I live in iceland where I can pretty much live off of potatoes and fish, then you go out there, and fish for your fish yourself. I don’t really eat meat but if some one does I don’t have a huge problem with it. My concerns are where it comes from, and if there is a better method. Also, how much you eat and if it is really necessary to eat it at all based off of where you live and what else is more logically available.

  16. February 24, 2009 10:28 am


    Good to hear from you! I was hoping you’d see this thread. After our discussion on an earlier mammal post, I was looking forward to reading your opinions on this issue.

    “Well, guess what? I won’t approve or support either one, and you risk losing the support of others that feel the way I do by limiting the options to only that which is unacceptable.”

    I’m not saying that in reality these are the only two choices. I’m saying that for the purposes of the debate on this blog, these are the only two choices. While finding a third alternative is a good goal for the real world, simply saying “both of these choices are unpleasant, I choose neither” makes for a pretty boring debate. Forced constraints make the discussion more focused and interesting.

    You don’t eat seafood? Good for you (I mean that seriously, not derisively). If everyone did that, we wouldn’t have problems with overfishing. However, that’s simply not going to happen. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 2 billion people get at least 25% of their daily food intake from the sea. What would you suggest that these people eat instead? Also, many of these 2 billion are incredibly poor, and I’m always a little uncomfortable telling people who have a serious chance of starving to death that they can’t eat something. Shark fin soup doesn’t apply here because it’s an expensive delicacy, not a staple food item.

    We’ll talk more about Sea Shephard in next week’s ethical debate, so please stay tuned. I’ll say right now that I don’t support what they’re doing and I don’t consider them allies, but please hold off discussion on this and join us next Monday. However, I must take issue with your notion that high ratings on whale wars mean people support what they are doing. This seems equivalent to Ann Coulter’s assertion that high ratings on “24” mean that most Americans support torture. Just because we’re entertained watching crazy people doesn’t mean that we support what they’re doing, and even if lots of people did support it, this doesn’t mean that it’s morally right.


    The use of floating objects in marine recovery areas is a good idea, and one that is being tested as we speak. In a year or so we should know how it works out. I agree that marine protected areas are a good solution in general, but there are some cases when they just don’t work. I hope you’ll keep reading Southern Fried Science, because we’ll get to this issue soon.

    • Jon permalink
      July 2, 2009 3:08 pm

      Two quick questions/comments:
      1. Is it not the goal of greenpeace or other groups to find a dilemma and bring awareness to that issue? If 500,000 Dolphins are dying simply so we can catch Tuna that just does not make sense. Maybe the solutions on the table are bad and in some cases worse but does that not make the dilemma still real? I think even creating a forum for a two sided debate without an open area for innovation outside the two sides is just goading to make an attack on environmentalists who you think are nutty.

      2.Out of those 2 billion who get 25% of their food from seafood, how many are getting it from industrial fishing boats and how many, since as you said so many are poor, are getting them straight from local fishermen or themselves. Also how many of those are getting their seafood from sources that are in great abundance?

      Finally as a few posters have said, the Tuna population is in terrible danger due to over fishing. All sea life is in danger because we are eating and polluting everything we get near. Should there not be some urgency to solve this dilemma, instead of just saying oh well nothing is going to change human behavior? I am looking forward to your arguments against the Sea Shephards, I am sure you will have some interesting ideas about their shortcomings. I do not eat seafood and I hope more being to as well. Humans are adaptable but apathetic and complacent in their ways. I hope that in your efforts you are creating half the awareness to your cause as the Sea Shephards are to theirs.

  17. February 24, 2009 1:01 pm

    I just felt like defending my “off the cuff remark” about Sea Shepherd– yes, I do support the way they go about doing things, and yes I do support most of the things they do. However, the ideas they use to decide what they’re going to defend, such as, “all shark species are at 10% of the population they were before 1970” aren’t exactly based on scientific fact, it’s just the most shocking number they could find.

    In short, I like Sea Shepherd, but their PR department really really sucks.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      February 25, 2009 6:26 pm

      Sam, I hope you’ll come back next week, we’ll be talking all about effective ways of getting “the message” out there, using Sea Shephard as an example.

  18. Craig Nazor permalink
    February 24, 2009 2:00 pm

    My comment about the “popularity” of the show leading to more donations is a fact, not necessarily a logical conclusion. I wasn’t opening the can of worms of are they “right” or not; I was just saying that Whale Wars has increased donations to the organization. There is also a documentary movie about Captain Watson that has recently been released and it is getting good reviews. The key is publicity, something Watson is very, very good at.

    I would point out that the choice to overfish the oceans is not based in science, either. Science should inform our decisions, but get two people together, and we have politics. Politics sometimes does the right thing for the wrong reasons, and the wrong thing for the right reasons. That’s the nature of politics.

    The fact that we will never get the whole world to stop eating seafood is not the point. The world is changed one person at a time. If I know that the vast majority of seafood is being caught unethically, I believe it is my PERSONAL responsibility to do what I can to not support the unethical behavior. What do you feel is your personal responsibility on this issue?

    I do, however, believe we can greatly reduce our demand on the sea. For instance: a significant percentage of ocean fish go into cat food. Seafood was never a diet of wild cats. It is very easy to get cat food without seafood in it. It just takes publicity on this issue.

    • February 24, 2009 5:17 pm

      Hi Craig,

      Glad to see you back. Have you read “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” by H. Bruce Franklin about the American Menhaden fisheries? It’s funny to think that one of the most important fish, both ecologically and industrially, is almost completely unheard of by the general public. If I had to pick one fish species to conserve, it would have to be menhaden.

      See my earlier post on Supply Side Conservation to get an idea for why personal boycotts, though admirable, are not terribly effective against supply limited industries. Forgive the pun, but what we need is a sea change.

      The vast majority of our interaction with fish happens on the dinner plate. If people love fish because they love to eat them, they’ll be more want to protect the overall population than if they didn’t interact with fish at all, as long as they get an aquatic education along with their meals.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      February 25, 2009 6:28 pm

      Craig, I would be thrilled to see less “fish meal” used in pet food and agriculture, and you’re right, that’s not part of the natural diet of these animals.

      However, fish meal is so popular because it’s the cheapest thing out there. Feeding livestock more expensive food means charging more for their meat- and many people can barely afford to eat as it is. In times of economic crisis, we’re not likely to legally mandate that people have to buy more expensive products.

      • Craig Nazor permalink
        February 25, 2009 9:24 pm

        The trick is to pass the full price of sustaining the resource on to those consuming it. The American diet includes way more meat than is necessary to keep people healthy. The vast majority of Americans could easily reduce their consumption of meat, which would be cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment. Also, if a “cheap” resource becomes depleted, this will have a much larger negative effect on the poor around the world than on those Americans consuming large amounts of artificially cheap beef. We don’t really save ANY lives in the long run by not paying the full price for what we consume up front, we just put off the day of reckoning.

        You can’t take much from those who have nothing. It is only the relatively wealthy who can afford to give, provided they are willing to do so. The solution is in their (our) hands.

        The best start for a solution would be for those of us enlightened enough to understand the problem to make the moral decision to stop eating all meat. I have done this (I do eat eggs and cheese. I have chickens who produce the eggs I eat. Milk products are much more problematic). Don’t get me wrong, I like eating meat. It tastes good. I find nothing wrong with eating meat as long as we minimize animal suffering and make sure that ANY reliance on wild populations is sustainable. For the most part, our society currently falls woefully short of doing either of these things. And maybe it never will take responsibility, but that’s really not morally relavent to this personal decision.

        The next step is to make sure that those who consume the natural resource are AT THE VERY MINIMUM paying the full price for sustaining that resource, including the waste produced. This is usually done by making and enforcing laws. This will only happen through education (lots of possibilties there) and the messy political process. It takes a lot of work and it is very expensive, so we need lots of help.

        Or we could have a lottery, select half the population (not my half!), and kill them. And that will never, ever happen at the hand of man, altough it’s not much more immoral than the way we are currently treating much of the life with which we share this planet. Nature, however, has no such moral compunctions, but we lose all control over which ones of us get the boot. Maybe our collective stupidity will reach the point where it forces Nature’s hand in this – and it will not be pretty.

        If you have any other solutions, I would be more than happy to hear them.

      • February 25, 2009 11:51 pm

        Hi Craig,

        this is a total aside, but for some reason in the last month I’ve ran into at least 3 amateur chicken breeders. Are you using a small farm, or do you have one of those small urban chicken coops like the omlet?

        I’m like you, I think meat is delicious, but am strongly opposed to eating it because of the way we raise and treat livestock. I’ve taken to calling myself a conscientious carnivore. I’m ok with some hunted meat, which is a point i think we differ on.

      • Craig Nazor permalink
        February 26, 2009 3:28 am

        I have three bantam hens in a small coop that I built myself in the back yard. I let them out in the fenced yard when I am around, and they do an excellent job eating up all the june bug larva, as well as all other kinds of damaging insects. I like the small hens because they don’t dig as much and they produce a larger egg for the amount of feed they eat than the larger hens. I find chickens to be fascinating and personable creatures, and tough as nails.

        I actually can see your point about some hunting, although I no longer hunt myself, and I personally don’t eat hunted meat. Some introduced species (like wild European hogs in Texas) are enormously destructive to the entire ecosystem, and because we have killed off all their predators, white-tailed deer can reach plague proportions at times. Humans are responsible for these problems, and it doesn’t make sense to waste the meat. But I find the vast majority of hunting to be very, very poorly regulated, and the laws are almost never enforced.

      • Frank Komitsky Jr permalink
        June 30, 2009 11:19 pm

        In the Gulf of Mexico menhaden make up a large proportion of the fish meal produced, valuable because the proportion of amino acids, protein components, is very ideal for chickens feed. Also, a lot of shrimp bycatch is used for cat food.

      • Claire permalink
        July 5, 2009 1:00 am

        I think you mentioned it in this little string, Craig, but if I were to sustain myself on only one kind of meat, it would probably be venison. Those little buggers are everywhere down here, and I’m not entirely convinced that they don’t breed like rabbits.
        As for David, he makes an excellent point about educating people about the animals they eat. The more you know about something, the more likely you are to want to keep it around. This fits in with your point about changing the world one person at a time. If we can educate people, even one person at a time, about the effects that they have on the environment, they will most likely be more open to pursuing sustainable fisheries, and that’s one step closer to saving the ecosystem.
        More power to you for not eating meat. I hope you’re keeping the proper amount of protein in your diet. It’s not my personal choice, but ever since my gallbladder mutinied I’ve been eating a lot more fish and chicken and a lot less beef. I never was one for pork, and I’ve been raised on venison like most Southern-fried children. I’m all for education and sustainability, believe me.
        On a side note, I’m really glad I found this blog. It’s always nice to know that there are people out there who share my passion for the ocean and it’s magnificent critters ^_^

    • Daryl permalink
      September 30, 2009 7:50 pm

      if everyone stopped eating seafood – what do they eat? Land grown meat… more land grown crops…?
      deforestation (via CO2 emmisions leading to ocean acidification), and run off of nutrients are two of the biggest issues i can foresee for ALL oceanic life in the near future… in actual fact i suspect that intelligent and sustainable harvesting of seafood would be far better for the oceans in terms of reducing the pressure land-based farming puts on it.

  19. Encarni permalink
    February 24, 2009 2:33 pm

    It’s increadible. I didn’t know this. Now this is the second bad thing I here about echologists. The first one is that they don’t bother about tobacco contamination or tobacco damages.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      February 25, 2009 6:29 pm

      All right, I have to ask- what are you talking about with tobacco?

      • February 25, 2009 7:44 pm

        and what in the world is an echologist?

  20. Craig Nazor permalink
    February 25, 2009 12:51 am

    I have not read the book you mention, but I have been aware of the importance of Menhaden for years. The last I heard was that the Menhaden fishery is approaching commercial collapse in the Berring Sea. This may be at least partially due to global climate change, but the consensus is that it is primarily from overfishing. Many of these fish you never heard of end up in pet food, food for commercial feed (did you know there was a Purina trout chow?), or fetilizers.

    I will read your post, but the reason that I do not eat seafood has nothing to do with the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of seafood boycotts. The reason is that I personally am not going to support the destruction of our marine environment for profit if I can possibly help it. If everyone felt this way and acted on it, it would be very effective. I can’t control anyone else but myself, so I will start there.

    One of the main problems with bycatch, or even the statistics that try to measure bycatch, is that the vast majority of it goes on out of sight of any scientific measurement. In fact, the problem with any kind of laws on the high seas at all is that nobody wants to enforce them, and only a very few countries have the resources to attempt to enforce them even if they wanted to.

    When Europeans first came to America, pecans became very popular in Europe. Now, these were not the big, fat, selectively-bred, paper-shell pecans of today. These were the tiny, hard-shelled, and extremely tasty native pecans. To harvest them, the French would find a nice big tree full of ripe nuts, cut the tree down, and take the pecans. It is no wonder that the Native Americans got pissed off!

    Fishing with high levels of bycatch is the same thing. It is not sustainable. As such, we should all be doing everything we can to stop it. Maybe we will be too late, maybe not, but what is the ethical alternative?

  21. Craig Nazor permalink
    February 25, 2009 1:23 am

    I just left a response to your other post on that blog.

    • February 25, 2009 8:08 am


  22. Meshal Sulaiman permalink
    February 26, 2009 9:09 am

    A lot of very interesting points where brought up.
    By eliminating other choices you have also reduced the number of viable solutions that you have. Yes, using floatsam to gather juvenile tuna is a method that is highly popular. Also, you are correct in mentioning that it also attracts other species.
    However, you seem to have ignored some of the other technological advances that have been made in the field of tuna fishing. Currently, as far as i know it, tuna like most other fish, reproduce through eggs and sperm released in the water that float away in the water and im sure you know the rest of the story. Now hold on to this fact. In southern Australia, tuna fisheries have greatly increased the viability of the local tuna fishery while greatly reducing by-catch. How?
    Using helicopters and spotter planes they locate schools of tuna, and instead of deploying floatsam, they attract the schools closer to the surface using tuna chum. Up until this point their method seems to be the same as any other fishery. Difference here is that once the tuna is captured in the nets of the purse-seiner, instead of raising the nets to above the deck and transferring the fish to the freezers or tanks (depending on their setup) they deploy divers that at many times endager their own lives to safely free any sharks that have entered the nets with the school. The nets are then towed back to Port Lincoln where they are kept in pens till maturity. Now bear in mind that these pens are kept in open water where GWS and bronze whalers often frequent, and often enter the pens by chewing holes in the nets. Again, divers, known as shark wranglers, enter the pens and remove the sharks unharmed.
    If you recall, tuna reproduce through eggs and sperm freely floating in the water. Although i cant verify whether the tuna in Port Lincoln actually reach a reproductive age, the method of capture and containment till maturity would allow the local tuna fisheries to recover, as they have in Southern Australia.

    ps. you can find a show called Tuna Wrangles. also there is another show called Tuna Cowboys.

    • eheupel permalink
      February 27, 2009 12:57 am

      Meshal – Dave did not ignore other technological advances. He clearly defined the problem in order to constrain the discussion and force careful deliberation on the topic. Tuna ranching (or Capture Based Aquaculture), which is what you are describing is very different from fishing described in the tightly constrained original post.

      Also important to note is the species you are describing. The tuna that are being ranched in Port Lincoln are Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), not a tropical tuna (Yellowtail, Bigeye, Skipjack and Albacore). The same technique is being used in the Mediterranean with Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus thynnus) which has been a miserable failure, and there is a small ranching operation in Ensenada Mexico for Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus orientalis) again, not the tropical tunas. These different Tuna’s have VERY different life histories and habits.

      Tropical tunas such as the yellowtail, bigeye and skipjack live a max of 4-7 years depending on species, but Bluefin, whether Southern, Pacific or Atlantic don’t even reach maturity until 5 years old r older, and the fecundity of females doesn’t reach prime levels until about 10 years old (in most fish the older and bigger the female the more and more successful the eggs she produces) Remember this is a fish that lives upwards of 25 years and can reach in excess of 700kg.

      The ones captured for the Port Lincoln and Ensenada operations are mostly 2 year olds captured when they are 15-25kg. Some three year olds are also captured at 50-70kg these are killed and sold right away mostly. The smaller two year olds are fed in captive pens (rough for an animal like the Bluefin Tuna) on sardines for 4-9 months or till they have increased in mass by 30-35%. When they are fattened (Toro) like this they are killed and flash frozen then go for around $45 per pound on the Tsukiji fish market.

      The Bluefin tuna lifecycle has been completed in captivity in Japan (as has the Yellowfin, and I believe the skipjack), where they have F4 and I believe now F5 generation Pacific Bluefin tuna, but it is not yet commercially viable (0.01 -0.45% survival of fertilized eggs to juvenile tuna – turns out the larval forms are cannibalistic and very sensitive.). The captive raised Tuna require a lot of sardines (or pilchard in Port Lincoln) and there have been some big problems from this especially in Australia where in the late 90’s imported fish for feeding Tuna introduced a virus that wiped out 75% of the native pilchard stocks.

      The Port Lincoln and Ensenada operations may be sustainable. Maybe. NOT SO THE MEDITERRANEAN. Why not the med? Because not one of the nations, organizations or fishing groups had the backbone to implement the recommendations when there was a chance at saving both the species and the fishery.Even if the Port Lincoln and Ensenada operations were sustainable they are exclusive market operations, 95% of the harvest (which is not 100% of the captured tuna) go to the Sushi market in Japan another 5% of the final harvest goes to local markets, and any fish that do not make it to harvest, or are blemished also go to local market. Not one of the animals make it to reproductive age.

      So in short – in no way is tuna ranching the panacea we would like it to be. With commercialization of the complete life cycle there is promise of sustainability, but not the reality. Soon I hope there is, for truely I do love tuna, and bluefin tartar or sashimi or ceviche is amazing, especially when it was only three hours ago in the ocean. Maybe Capture Based Aquaculture would make a good ethical delimma post later…I promise I’ll keep to the sidelines since I’ve had a piece here.

      Still back to the topic: The save the dolphin meant to do good, but the do gooders did wrong by almost everyone involved.

      If you want to dig more into Bluefin Tuna and similar topics, check out my old CiteULike profile I set up while working for a panel on the marine science assesment of capture based tuna aquaculture in Ensenda.

      • capitaine Moede permalink
        June 25, 2009 8:13 am

        When I was a lad, northern European sensibilities were shocked by the mattanza in Sicily. It is indeed upsetting to see the wine dark Mediterranean turn blood red as the bluefin tuna is bludgeoned to death. Yet clearly it is a most ecological way to fish. Despite being highly labour intensive, the mattanza still takes place in May and June.

        “There’s nothing like watching the fish struggle as they are herded into ever smaller, shallower net chambers (the final one is called the “chamber of death”) and finally lifted onto the boats. Indeed, the term mattanza has found its way into the Italian vernacular as a synonym for “massacre.””

  23. Meshal Sulaiman permalink
    February 26, 2009 9:19 am

    Since we are on the topic of ecologically friendly methods to catch fish, take up spearfishing. 0% bycatch and you cant really get more selective that pointing at the fish that you want to catch. Obsivously its not a catch and release fishery. Being an avid spearo, i dont buy fish from the supermarket, and can justify my catch rate as i often have to swim a total of 13km, many times against the current, to shoot my fish. And if that wasnt enough, the area i fish in has bull and tiger sharks, so i like to think that i have trully earned my catch

  24. fumu permalink
    February 28, 2009 8:46 pm


  25. March 2, 2009 9:13 am

    The Tuna fishery as in many industries seek profits before anything else. I think its is foolish to believe they have the Dolphins well being at heart, perhaps the fishermen do but not the shareholders. If this is the truth behind the “dolphin friendly” tag I believe that this matter should be publisised extensively. The real issue lies with the fact that modern methods of fishing are destructive wasteful and sometimes barely profitable.

    The ocean is the wild west, where trawlers will keep harvesting until fishing is no longer productive. We need stricter enforcable International laws that protect ALL sea life for future generations. Now that sound like we need politicians involved and hey, call me a sceptic but then we are doomed.

    I am all for groups like Sea Shepherd Int who take there fight to the source, beyond corrupt politicians, wanna be do gooders and weekend environmentalist.

    Save our Tuna.

  26. Eleanor permalink
    March 3, 2009 10:51 am

    Apologies if these have already been mentioned…But what about two options that seem to be rarely discussed:
    1. ‘Backing down’ – where you set purse seine nets on pods of dolphins but manouvre the net by backing down the vessel, supposedly allowing dolphins to escape whilst keeping most of the tuna in the net…I’ve definitely read about this but not sure of the success rate?
    2. Set nets on dolphins but impose total allowable bycatch limits for the species most impacted. Bearing in mind that FADs REALLY SHOULD be banned and we are unlikely to see an end to all tuna fishing at any point in the near future…If fishermen are allowed to set nets on dolphins, a bycatch limit is set and the tuna fishery is worth enough then chances are they will find a way to keep bycatch at low levels.

    • Claire permalink
      July 5, 2009 1:07 am

      Your first option is what I was looking for! That’s what the fisherman had started doing before the dolphin safe tuna campaign. I got the information from a lecture by Dr. Dean Grubbs during my shark biology course in Bimini this past May.
      David, if you’re the avid shark guy I know you are, then you know who I’m talking about.
      Thanks for the reminder!

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        July 5, 2009 10:37 am

        A lecture of Dean’s is actually the basis for this whole post. I was in Bimini in May of 2008, and Dan Abel is now on my committee.

      • Claire permalink
        July 5, 2009 9:12 pm

        You’re kidding. I’m at CCU, one year out of finishing my bachelor’s. I’ll be back August 14th, actually. Where are you?

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        July 5, 2009 9:32 pm

        I’m at C of C

  27. March 17, 2009 3:11 am

    welcome to Beyond Blue mag David, I am very excited to have you write for us and I loved your blog here. very interesting. regards
    Fiona Ayerst

  28. March 26, 2009 3:41 pm

    I think we would value the life of a dog more than the lives of ten sheeps (we kill millions of those every day).

    Dolphins is a species with high intellectual capacities, second only to the branch that evolved to humans.
    I guess we need to respect that. Or would you be willing to kill 4000 chimps (which are as intellient as a 4-year old) instead of cows?

  29. notmyrealm permalink
    April 7, 2009 6:05 pm

    First of all, although my name clearly depicts my state-of-mind when reading this blog, I thouroughly enjoy it.

    Secondly, in response to the comment from “rb”:
    Although I understand humans have been raised to associate “intelligence” and “love” with the word “dolphin” (much like one would associate with a Labrador or a Chimpanzee), many websites (such as and explain that the intelligence of the dolpin species is still a heated debate among many scientists. My belief is much in conjunction with whysharksmatter’s stated belief–that humans, especially the Western civilization, have been taught to care for dolphins merely due to their marine mammal status and due to John Lilly’s belief that they may one day surpass the intelligence of a human being.

    When looking at the statistics that whysharksmatter posts above, one realizes that to sacrifice so many species due to a somewhat superficial attachment to the dolphin species is absurd on so many levels. One very important example relates to the education that will be hindered if the other species become endangered, or worse, extinct.

    Furthermore, just as food-for-thought (no pun intended), many people survive on diets including yellowtail, tuna, mahi mahi, triggerfish, etc. (once again look at the statistics–provided in the actual blog entry–of how many die when saving dolphins). In comparison, not as many dolphins are used as a part of a human’s daily diet.
    ***In realization that the previous sentence may result in discussion of who and how many people eat dolphins, I do realize that a large part of the Japanese population enjoy dolphin as a part of their meal–I am merely asking that you think of the large quantities of fish eaten versus the quantities of dolphins. And, please leave the discussion on whether or not it is ethical to eat a dolphin up to VeganVerve.

  30. April 12, 2009 2:34 pm

    This debate is very difficult because it seems that either way you choose, only one species is going to have the best chances at survival. It is true that as humans we tend to favor the “cuter” animals,dolphins and sea turtles so when we hear that dolphins are being entangled in tuna nets we immediately think “oh no,thats Flipper!” However, we need to think about what is at stake when we try to save one dolphin. I love dolphins just as much as the next person but after reading the statistics about how many other species are killed by the pursuit of saving one is incredibly disheartening. Perserving one dolphin comes at the risk of killing hundreds and thousands of other fish and aquatic animals. I think in this instance is best to use the dolphin schools in order to get the tuna because the gains outweigh the losses. The tuna industry employs so many people,not to mention feeds thousands so to ask people to stop fishing for tuna is ridiculous. If we can save the sharks,sea turtles,other fish, who run a much greater chance of becoming endangered than dolphins.

  31. ZRT843 permalink
    April 12, 2009 5:26 pm

    All of these points that everyone is making are very interesting. Here is what I have to say. I work on a boat that does tours to view dolphins on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and the amount of protection that exists for all of the dolphins in almost all waters is extremely high. I would highly doubt that there will be a day when fisherman can openly fish for tuna any way that they want, due to all of the other destructive causes of it. Will there be a resolution to this dilemma? I’m not completely sure, but I do know that when it comes to the dolphins’ safety, the government is not going to ease up any time soon.

  32. isfa'06 permalink
    April 13, 2009 2:08 pm

    There are alot of fish going endangered in the ocean…we really should be focused on the important ones instead of on the ones that are not threatening the ocean life. MPA’s are getting put up in different places to protect the fish population and the coral population, if we are focusing on dolphins that are not even close to becoming endangered then we are going to loose out on some amazing animals that we may not have learned anything about. While dolphin safety should become more important to the government it is still a problem we are going to face for a long time. Nets in the ocean, fishermen, etc…these are problems that are going to keep harming the lives of dolphins. We cant fix every problem at once, so lets focus on the bigger problem first

  33. April 13, 2009 4:34 pm

    In response to this debate I agree that we should definitely go back to fishing in dolphin associated ways because dolphin-safe fishing obviously is not helping any other species in the water. It is only helping to save a few individual dolphins. This does not seem efficient or logical. We need to try to save the sea turtles and other fishes that are endangered instead of worrying about the dolphin population that is not even endangered! I personally love dolphins and wouldn’t want to see any killed, however we should look at the bigger problem here and not worry about a few individual dolphins.

  34. treb permalink
    April 14, 2009 12:00 pm

    It doesn’t seem likely that the groups that spent so much time and effort to change tuna fishing regulations would turn back on their decisions, even if this information proves that it is worse for the majority of animals. Although safer options than the 2 listed don’t seem to be available or economically feasible for fisheries today, I think that the option that would make the largest impact right now would be to change the definition or term Dolphin Safe. To be honest, I knew nothing about this before reading this post, and ate tuna for lunch yesterday actually, without knowing how detrimental it is. As long as demand for tuna remains high, there won’t be much incentive or motivation for companies or fisheries to look for alternative fishing methods. Dolphin Safe sounds so positive that there is no reason for people to be skeptical, and changing the term or definition would make a large impact.

  35. Coco permalink
    April 14, 2009 7:18 pm

    After reading this debate, there is no doubt in my mind that “dolphin safe” tuna is really the most unsafe for the environment and that fishermen should resort back to the old ways of fishing for tuna. The old way should be tweaked and rules and restrictions should be placed on fishing boats collecting tuna to make it safer for all the sea animals (except the tuna obviously). Personally, i find tuna absolutely disgusting, so I vote we stop fishing it all together and then everyone would be better off🙂

  36. Captainkirk permalink
    April 16, 2009 3:04 pm

    You honestly make an excellent point on this issue. Are dolphins really so important that we are willing to wipe out dozens of other populations of sea animals just to save them? I think the dolphin following method should be the way tuna are fished. It is the safer more productive way of fishing, and sure maybe a few dolphins are killed along the way, but maybe that keeps them from overpopulating.

  37. dmr5 permalink
    April 16, 2009 4:51 pm

    After reading the article and several other blogs, I would have to agree with going back to the old way of catching tuna. It is ridiculous to harm several other species just to save one. Yes, it is harmful to thousands of dolphins, but the number of dolphins harmed is far less than the amount of other species harmed. I believe that Captainkirk makes a good point: “It is the safer more productive way of fishing,” and apparently much cheaper.

  38. goose permalink
    April 19, 2009 2:52 pm

    I think that it’s more important to try and preserve the diversity of species, rather than just trying to preserve large numbers of one species. The ecosystem is like a house of cards, if one species goes then the rest will be negatively affected, its possible that extinction of a species that seems inconsequential to dolphins (for example a type of sea turtle) can end up harming dolphin populations.

  39. goose permalink
    April 19, 2009 2:56 pm

    Also i think its bizarre that those that support dolphin safe tuna would rather see large numbers of sea turtles as by-catch. Sea turtle populations are rapidly shrinking, and are in far greater threat than dolphins.

  40. cupcake permalink
    April 20, 2009 1:10 am

    Although many valid and interesting points have been raised about this debate, I must stick with my original thought after reading the post. If the facts are true, and I trust them to be, that such a wide range of species are being killed by the “dolphin safe” strategy of using the floating object, then it is absolutely indisputable that we should return to the original method of following dolphins. There is no reason why it should be considered acceptable that so many other organisms are being killed at the expense of saving the dolphins, especially when it sounds like the dolphins are not the organisms that need “saving” so much as the actual endangered species do. I also find it hard to believe that all of these pro-dolphin environmentalist groups are okay with the idea of sacrificing various other organisms. That just doesn’t seem plausible.

  41. Zach permalink
    April 20, 2009 5:14 pm

    I agree with you about going back to the old way. The real question at hand is, “is it worth the death of a few to save many?” The problem is only made worse by the fact that the animals this method takes its toll on are endangered. I doubt the practice will be stopped, however. The majority of people are psychologically more inclined to feel for a bloody dolphin more than for some dead fish or sharks, despite the fact that these animals are clearly a crucial part of the ecosystem.

  42. DSstudent permalink
    April 20, 2009 6:36 pm

    This article was very interesting! I never really knew anything about “Dolphin safe” tuna. Although I’ve heard about it, I never thought that it would harm other animals! If it is actually hurting that many other species of animals, it seems like it’s a terrible idea!

  43. kdid permalink
    April 20, 2009 9:24 pm

    After reading through all of this I agree on going back to the old way. I love dolphins and think that the point about how we favor certain animals over other animals is very prominent in our society. This is why I think we are even having to debate this. Regardless, I think the safety of the other species is more important and will benefit us more in the long run. I think if the other way does someday cause dolphins to become extinct then we should revisit the issue, but until then the old way seems like the safer route. It is better to save many, rather than one.

  44. Anna permalink
    April 20, 2009 10:48 pm

    I think aquariums are a good thing. They create jobs for people who really likes animals. Aquariums are educational because people that go to the aquariums get to learn all about animals that live in the ocean. If we didn’t have aquariums there would be fewer jobs. Some people would never be able to see certain animals with their own eyes. They would only see pictures, and there is a big difference seeing them in person. Animals in the aquarium are protected. They will be breeding and keep the population going. We also learn things about the animals that we couldn’t observe if they weren’t in an aquarium. We would only get to observe them in the ocean, and it also wouldn’t be as convenient. However, I can see why people think animals should be in their natural environment. I can seem how it seems cruel. However, I think it is more beneficial to have aquariums.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 20, 2009 10:56 pm


      This comment makes no sense on this post. You’re referring to another post.

  45. Ceci permalink
    April 20, 2009 11:16 pm

    Unfortunately, I think people are more concerned about dolphins than other marine life. One reason may be that they are mammals and seem more closely related to human beings than say a fish or a turtle. People are also more familiar with dolphins than they are many of the other species of small fish swimming in the ocean. Personally, I love dolphins, but when you look at the numbers, it does seem more logical to abandon “dolphin safe” tuna fishing (and thanks for doing the math for us, by the way. I wouldn’t have done it, and the numbers make a lot more sense and pack more of a punch when simplified.)

    I think you are right—the only alternative to “dolphin safe” tuna fishing is to return to the less “dolphin safe” method. It’s not feasible to expect people to stop eating tuna, especially since many people could care less what dies as long as they’re eating what they like. Not everyone is going to be happy with a single fishing method, so I think it’s best to look at the best option for the ecosystem.

  46. Anna permalink
    April 21, 2009 12:00 am

    I definitely think we should use the dolphin method because it kills less animals, and dolphins are still getting killed. I think its practical thing. I mean I know Greenpeace wants to save all animals, but they can’t. They need to face the reality of what is really happening. I do love animals, and its sad to think of any of them getting killed. However, we can prevent all these other animals from getting killed especially if they are endangered. This could affect the food chain tremendously. They could be some really bad repercussions to killing all these animals in the ocean. I don’t want to see anymore animals endangered. Plus the fishermen say they try to save the dolphins when they fished that way but they couldn’t possible try to save all the other animals they catch using the third method.

  47. stir2006 permalink
    April 21, 2009 1:34 am

    I think that they should use the dolphin method because in the long run they will end up killing less animals and it will be better for the nature. I don’t think that killing off thousands of other endangered species to save more dolphins who are not extinct at this point in time is worth it. I think that the protection of the many other species of fish being killed off using this method is more important than saving more dolphins. Sacrificing a few of one species who can afford it is not as bad as wiping out tons of other species who may be on the verge of being extinct.

  48. B. Wolf permalink
    April 21, 2009 9:37 am

    I feel that we should use the dolphin safe method because we aren’t catching and killing all of the other animals that will be attracted to the object method. Also I feel that the fisherman can go to extra lengths to release the dolphins if accidentally caught. Whereas if they used the object method it will be entirely to many animals to try and save.

  49. AngelGEEK permalink
    April 21, 2009 10:27 am

    This definitely feels like a lose/ lose situation. But since the damage is going to happen either way, I’m gonna have to go with option number #3. For now at least, dolphins are not an endangered species and the numbers of death period is far greater when using the floating objects. I do hope that in the next few years though, someone develops a better way to catch or obtain Tuna.

  50. SBT permalink
    April 21, 2009 11:56 am

    I definitely agree that either that either situation is not the preferable one. Think about it this way though. If we wern’t talking about dolphins, and talking about a random fish that no one knew much about, most people would not hesitate to say go with option three. I think we are letting our feelings, whether they are based on what American society has taught us or a true love for dolphins based on a knowledge of their past peacefulness towards humans, get in the way of making this decision.

    Therefore, I believe that option three is the best for the entire ocean ecosystem, though i do feel bad condemning the dolphins, but honestly, that’s only because I’ve been brought up to love them.

  51. jsgeology permalink
    April 21, 2009 12:55 pm

    I think that a few dolphins losing their lives from fishing tuna is not terrible. Dolphins are in no way endangered though the new eco friendly dolphin safe way of fishing for tuna is killing many endangered species. I just think it’s ridiculous when organizations pick one animal they look at as cute and think that it’s the only thing that deserves saving. and also they always talk about how smart the dolphin is, if the dolphin was so smart youd think they wouldn’t be constantly getting themselves caught in nets

  52. Meredith Steele permalink
    April 21, 2009 2:59 pm

    I think you make a solid point. Personally, I think that it is wrong to sacrifice multiple species just to save dolphins. Yes, it is unfortunate that anything must suffer in the attempt to catch tuna but wouldn’t it be better to harm less animals in the process? Also I think a big part of the debate has to do with the common “love for dolphins” so many people have. Dolphins are a lovable animal but aren’t sea turtles too? In an ideal situation we would not even need to fish for tuna but economically it is impossible to stop the fishery for tuna. So, the solution I believe is to continue to use the dolphin method because it seems to be the least harmful way to catch the valuable tuna.

  53. Jeff permalink
    April 21, 2009 4:05 pm

    Due to globalization and the mass world markets for Tuna I believe that its not only the bi-catch we have to be worried about. Major fisheries have gotten too good at catching fish and are depleting the world’s oceans of their supply, including the tuna. I think there should be some kind of cap on the amount of tuna that is allowed be harvested from the ocean by major fisheries. This would not only help increase the supply of Tuna but hopefully decrease the amount of bi-catch since they basically won’t be able to fish as much. Going back to using dolphins to find tuna instead of using floating objects I also think would be a step in the right direction for the overall wellness of our oceans.

  54. Shayne permalink
    April 22, 2009 5:36 pm

    This is a very hard debate to answer because I am a big fan of dolphins and I hate seeing them being captured. The problem here is that way too many other species are getting killed just to save one dolphin. This is where the fishing industries need to put there minds together and develop new technologies and ways to releasing larger animals and keeping the tuna. We have a world of thinkers and I believe if someone puts their mind to it they will be able to find a better solution.

  55. Kyle permalink
    April 22, 2009 7:08 pm

    The idea of having dolphin safe tuna is great but not 100% possible. David shows the methods of dolphin safe tuna fishing and how dolphins have to come up for air. If they need to come up for air the fishermen should be more observant in watching what they are fishing for.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      April 22, 2009 11:08 pm

      “fishermen should be more observant in watching what they are fishing for.”

      The nets are miles across. Also, the fishermen DID try and help the dolphins.

  56. Kirsten permalink
    April 22, 2009 10:48 pm

    I definetly did not know this about dolphin-safe tuna….interesting. Mathematically, it seems a simple choice: putting all this effort into saving one species is detrimental to several others. The data you present in regards to the cost of saving one dolphin makes it very clear that ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna really means ‘forget all the other marine life, the dolphins are safe’ tuna. People love dolphins, and why not? Theyre beautiful animals, and they are extremely intelligent. But I happen to like turtles and sharks too…..wheres the ‘turtle-safe’ tuna?

  57. JannaLJ permalink
    April 22, 2009 11:58 pm

    Personally, I agree that they should go back to following the dolphins to find tuna. Everything in this world relies on everthhing else to survive. If we keep killing off species like sharks and sea turtles, who are endangered, then we will have a chain reaction of species dying off. Without sharks, there will be an overpopulation of certain fish like snapper or grouper. Their food will eventually run out. It will be a huge chain of events, and it was already stated that with the new way of hunting tuna, dolphins are the only animals being saved. There is no comparison for one dolphin with the cost of lives of many other species. Therefore, I think that they need to do something about this problem fast.

  58. Kathleen Hunt permalink
    April 23, 2009 1:34 pm

    Great post. A few questions that you and others brought up:

    – why fishes have evolved the behavior of clustering under floating objects: This is almost definitely because it camouflages them for predators looking up from below, and to a lesser extent from predators looking down from above or from the side. Most predators scan for smaller prey by swimming low and looking up and spotting the prey’s outline against the bright sea surface overhead. (this is also, btw, why almost all marine life is dark colored above, but llight colored below – an attempt to blend in with the sea surface). If you’re under a large dark thing, you’re invisible to any predator that is searching from below. Helpfully, it also shields you from seabirds overhead and gives you something to dart behind in a crisis if something comes from the side. Fish in the open ocean are very exposed and any bit of shelter or camouflage always seems to be greatly appreciated.

    – what about back-down: Backdown would be superior to the currently used log sets. The reason backdown was not widely adopted is because the US has adhered stringently to the following criterion: You can only market your tuna with the dolphin-safe label in the US if you used a method with a dolphin kill rate approaching zero. However, back-down does kill the occasional dolphin – it only kills about 1% of the dolphins that old-style non-backdown dolphin sets kill, and that brings the dolphin kill rate way down into sustainable territory, but nonetheless it’s definitely more dolphins killed than in log sets, and so, back-down didn’t qualify for the dolphin-safe label. Basically the law is written so that any captain using back-down can’t sell his tuna to the biggest tuna market, which is the US.

    There was an attempt to modify the definition of the US dolphin-save label several years ago, to allow back-down as a viable option, but it was killed due to public outcry from animal rights groups. Crazy.

  59. Diane Gan permalink
    May 11, 2009 9:34 am

    One way to stop this is to refuse to buy tuna at all! The bottom drops out of the market and it becomes uneconomical to fish for tuna. The yellow-finned tuna are now virtually extinct in the Med. due to overfishing. They are targeting them in their breeding grounds now! The tuna will soon become extinct due to over fishing at the rate that they are catching them. Fishermen must be the most greedy people in the world – all they care about is today. What happens tomorrow when there are no more fish, dolphins, whales or turtles? What will the next generation say to us, who did nothing to stop this?

    • May 11, 2009 9:43 am

      Hi, Diane, and thanks for reading SouthernFriedScience.

      While I appreciate your passion for protecting the oceans, I feel the need to comment on two things that you said.

      1) “Just don’t eat tuna” isn’t an option for a lot of people. According to the U.N., something like 2 billion people get at least 1/3 of their daily food intake from the sea, and many of these people are desperately poor and don’t have the option to eat something that is more expensive but more sustainable. It doesn’t seem right to me to tell people who have known starvation that they aren’t allowed to eat something.

      2) Fisherman are not “greedy”. They are working hard to feed their families, and to feed the world. Reasonable people can disagree about fisheries quotas and policies, but we’re never going to get anywhere by insulting and demonizing people.

      Again, thanks for commenting.

  60. Charissa permalink
    May 20, 2009 7:59 am

    I think it’s disgusting that any non-targeted species are effected. But, by saying that the death of 4000 dolphins is justifible if the sharks don’t get hurt is just as disgusting. Just because you prefer sharks over dolphins does not give you the right to condemn ANY species to death over any other.

    Other means should be considered, and in actual fact if so many people were not hell bent on being able to have tuna, then it would be better for a greater amount of species

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      May 20, 2009 9:11 am

      Hi, Charissa, and thanks for commenting on Southern Fried Science.

      The issue isn’t that I “prefer sharks over dolphins”. The issue is that one tuna fishing method kills only dolphins and does so at levels that will not endanger entire populations, and one tuna fishing method is endangering dozens of species (therefore threatening entire populations and ecosystems).

      I’m sorry, but “just stop eating tuna” or “find another way to fish” is not a very well thought out response. Obviously that would be ideal, but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. We need to pick the best option that’s actually feasible in the short term while we work on a long term solution.

  61. June 4, 2009 3:52 am

    Well nothing disgusts me more than the devastation caused by greedy bellies and the fishing industry. Making changes here and there to the way in which certain fish are caught will probably never change our desperate need to destroy all other lifeforms, whether it be yellow fin tuna, sharks, dolphins, oysters, clams; by drift nets, dredging and other methods.

    The public need to know about the facts of these matters – for which I thank you. However, the knee-jerk reactions will ensue.. and the common people will stop listening to environmentalists assuming that “they know nothing”.

    I refuse to believe that these are the only methods available to us for tuna fishing… we could really do with some new innovation here.

    I just cant wait till growing meat in a lab becomes the primary method for the omnivore diet.

  62. June 4, 2009 3:56 am

    I feel I must really explain the “greedy bellies” part. I believe that those suffering from hunger could eat rice, grain, etc. and yes, all farming industries have an incredible lack of respect for the environment. However, this is due to the system… money, profit, and not due to the people who work on farms and as fishermen. There are cheaper foods out there than tuna.

    • June 4, 2009 6:54 am

      So then what about the people of Kiribati, a country with no arable land but almost as much territorial seas as the entire United States? Almost every meal is fish because there are no other food sources. We should just tell them it’s ok, they can eat rice?

    • Claire permalink
      July 5, 2009 1:22 am

      There are SO many things wrong with this comment.

      First of all, our “desperate need to destroy other life forms” comes from the fact that we are consumers. In order for us to live, something has to die, be it fish, cow, or plant. Who’s to say that you should kill the rice instead of the fish, hm? That’s your ethical dilemma, my dear, and quite frankly it’s highly unfair of you to tell starving people that you’ve never met that they should “eat rice, grain etc.”.
      Also, to say that all farming industries have an incredible lack of respect for the environment is a bit presumptious of you. While we’re at it, whether you believe these are the only methods available for tuna fishing is irrelevant. If you didn’t notice in the beginning, the options were put there for debate. The point isn’t which one you agree with. It’s whether or not you can pick one and argue it effectively.

    • Daryl permalink
      September 30, 2009 8:06 pm

      deforestation, nutrient run off and all sorts of nasties associated with “just eating crops” are actually in many ways more detrimental to the oceans than sustainable fisheries. also surviving on rice isnt exactly a complete diet is it!?

  63. Tami Kannenberg permalink
    June 6, 2009 12:22 am

    Hi. I just discovered this thread and it has given me a lot to think about. I am a meat eater. I no longer eat beef, but bison. I also love fish, I rarely get tuna, have always gotten the “dolphin safe” ones, but it may be something I simply won’t get anymore, gives me heartburn anyway. I was wondering, how much fish from the fishing industry goes to American grocery stores and restaurants? I for one prefer fish that I have caught myself on a simple fishing pole. I have wonder what went into the catching of these fish in restaurants and grocery stores?

  64. Stephen Willcock permalink
    June 9, 2009 2:00 pm

    Very astute; I’d just like to recommend the book Trawler, by Redmon O’Hanlan, wherein the nature of bycatch is explored in some detail (and with some shocking examples). O’Hanlan also outlines the extent of waste inherent in various fishing quota regulations that restrict what species of bycatch can be kept. Trawler is eminently readable and vastly informative.

    • June 9, 2009 3:36 pm

      and, unlike many marine conservation books, Trawler is really, really fun to read

  65. June 12, 2009 3:45 am

    “To make this debate more interesting, I am taking the options of “just stop fishing for tuna” and “come up with another way” off the table.”

    I’m wracking my brain to figure out how this makes the debate more interesting.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 12, 2009 7:14 am

      Hi, John, and thanks for commenting.

      It’s simple, really. None of us actually have the power to make international policy changes. This post is meant as a debate on the merits of different ideas.

      You have to think a little more when choosing between two unpleasant options then when choosing between one unpleasant option and something that sounds good. All of us want to stop fishing for tuna or find a less destructive way of fishing. That would not be an interesting discussion. This forces people to think.

  66. Leilah permalink
    June 17, 2009 11:55 am

    2) Unlike sharks and sea turtles, dolphins can jump over a floating net to escape- the ones at places like Miami Seaquarium demonstrate that behavior daily. For some reason they DON’T usually do this, but they sometimes do.

    Ok, this one might be a bit out there. Dolphins can learn behavior – can they then transmit that behavior to other dolphins? And if so – could we achieve some success with training dolphins in the wild to outmaneuver nets? The other thing that would be important to know in this case is why they don’t tend to do this – is there something in the situation that makes it less likely for them to escape?

    Also, thanks Meshal – I had never heard of Tuna Ranching before. Good to know!

    • Daryl permalink
      September 30, 2009 8:10 pm

      this was exactly what i was thinking – perhaps not train them but research why they DONT jump the nets… perhaps they cant see them? someone must has looked into this… maybe a simple change of net type (or something much more clever) would induce a net jumping response???

    • mojobone permalink
      October 19, 2009 4:40 pm

      Yes, I believe it’s been shown that dolphins can and have transmitted behavior. I know it’s not on the table, but I bet it’d be feasible to train dolphins to herd the tuna. For the record, I’m not against people eating anything, including dolphins, chimpanzees, dogs, horses, or even mountain gorillas, if they can find a sustainable way to do it, though I’d find eating dog distasteful, if I’d known the dog personally. I also tend to believe that the fishing industry is the only thing that can save the fish. Hunters have done wonders in preserving wetlands in the US, because they want to continue to shoot ducks. (though I suspect that banning DDT has had a greater effect on duck and eagle populations) I only wish some African countries would pay more attention to the science of economic incentives than to environmental extremists-perhaps there would still be some wild elephants and rhinoceros left to enjoy fifty years from now if their ivory could be legally harvested without killing them. I think the key to maintaining the world’s economically crucial fisheries is good science, good education and good management, but the necessary degree of international cooperation seems to be missing. Did I misread the original post or are some folks missing the fact that fewer actual dolphins were killed using the old method of harvesting tuna? In any case, I’ll no longer be buying tins of dolphin-safe tuna. Nor dolphin-safe chimpanzee, just to be sure.

  67. Josh permalink
    June 20, 2009 3:16 am

    Kinda off topic, but I would like just to put in real quick that the American education system needs to be ‘fixed’ in order for any actions by the next generation. As a high school student, I honestly must say that I knew NOTHING about any Marine Conservation. Maybe the lack of effort is on my end, but still. This site is really eye-opening for me.

    On the debate, I must have to go with the old ways. I think it’s the lesser of the 2 evils for all species considered. Above ‘shark wranglers’ were mentioned. Is this too far out, or would fishermen be able to employ ‘dolphin wranglers’? I realize the nets are quite long, so this might not be feasible.

  68. June 21, 2009 3:25 am

    David, you have won 2nd place in our contest. Please email me to arrange to claim your prize money ($300).


    See here:

  69. June 21, 2009 8:03 am

    (Found via 3Quarks)

    Interesting comment, you’re definitely not going with the flow on this one.

    I was aware of the bycatch problem with other species for some time, and did stop eating tuna for a time. I’ve since started buying MSC labeled tuna, albeit paying a premium price, since the fish are caught using the pole method.

    And that’s the point: rather than return to one bad way that doesn’t work, what we need to do his highlight how the other methods aren’t working either, and that other species are being hurt by current techniques. We shouldn’t consider that our only option is taking a major step back when it comes to awareness; slap people on the nose for “getting it wrong” when they expressed their concerns for dolphins, and then say, “Oh, well, just ignore the environmentalists, and let the folks fish how they want. We blew it. We bad.”

    Not only will this damage the cause of marine conservation (“what good will any do?”), it will undermine any future campaign to force corporations into practicing more environmentally sound practices.

    Your belief that “none of us can really make changes” may seem pragmatic, but it’s also self-defeating. And ironic, considering that your writing is a rant about a campaign by people that did make a difference.

    New net designs that allow turtles to escape, the use of magnets to dissuade sharks, other innovations have been and are still being tried. However, commercial enterprises won’t be willing to try any of these if people aren’t willing to show that they’ll put their purchasing power behind their beliefs. Giving up and just giving in to the old ways of doing things is not “putting one’s purchasing power behind one’s beliefs”. Frankly, it’s copping out.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 21, 2009 10:59 pm

      Hi, Shelley, and thanks for commenting!

      Though it has been lost in a sea of over 80 comments, I have already addressed many of your points. I’ll address them again because you clearly put a lot of thought into your comment and deserve a thorough response.

      I’m glad that you eat Marine Stewardship Council products. I do as well, and if everyone did the ocean would be in much better shape. However, though the U.S. does eat a lot of tuna, so does the developing world. In many places, it’s really the only source of affordable protein. You and I can afford to pay a little more for environmentally friendly products. Many people can barely afford the environmentally disastrous products.

      Regardless, I’m not saying that “don’t eat tuna” isn’t a way to help. It is a GREAT way to help. It just makes for a boring debate, when compared to what I’ve done here (forcing people to choose between two unpleasant choices). If I allowed that answer for this debate, everyone would say “don’t eat tuna”, and that would be boring.

      As far as your “one bad way that doesn’t work” comment goes, I’m curious as to what you mean. Following dolphins to catch tuna works fine, and is less bad than the current way. It kills some dolphins, sure, but not nearly enough to threaten their entire population, and has virtually no other bycatch. Compared to the present system, this would be great, unless you are of the opinion that protecting “cute” animals is more important than protecting dozens of endangered species from being wiped out.

      I don’t really see how switching from a fishing practice with devastatingly-high bycatch to a fishing practice with much, much lower bycatch undermines the cause of marine conservation. It’s actually the complete opposite.

      Turtle excluder devices work because turtles have much higher mass than shrimp- they activate the trapdoor, but shrimp aren’t heavy enough to. A similar design won’t work here because many of the bycatch fish are smaller or the same size as the target species of tuna.

      Magnets work well as shark repellents over distances of up to five feet, hardly useful when we’re considering mile-long nets.

      I’m not saying that we’ll never come up with a technological solution to reduce bycatch. Indeed, I hope we will. However, your plan of “keep using the most environmentally destructive fishing practice ever while we hope that some eventually comes up with a solution” seems to me to be less beneficial to the oceans than switching to another fishing practice that we know is far less destructive. If we come up with a technological solution that works better, let’s switch to that. In the meantime, let’s go with a technique that we know is MUCH less destructive than the current technique.

      I also don’t really see how switching from one of the most environmentally destructive fishing techniques ever to one that we know is MUCH less destructive constitutes “copping out”.

  70. June 22, 2009 12:08 am

    True, affordability will always be an issue, but the canners that stick dolphin safe on their cans sell predominately in developed countries–the ones that could afford to boycott the tuna in the first place, in order to enforce the practice. The developing countries you speak of also tend to get their fish via practices that probably make “dolphin safe” seem like a picnic.

    I can understand your emotional attachment and fear for sharks. They are handsome creatures that have been badly maligned for centuries, and several species are being harmed because of current tuna practices.

    But when you say that my response is based on my interest in saving the “cute” mammals, I think you do me a disservice. My concern is how people perceive progress in terms of environmental improvements.

    First, the dolphin bycatch was not a small number, as you imply. NOAA estimates the number of dolphins killed as bycatch from the tuna trade at over 6 million since the 1950s. Even spread out over 50 years, that’s a lot of dolphins. As you mentioned I believe earlier, that’s 120,000 to 150,000 dolphins a year.

    But even if we decide the numbers are worth it, to save other more threatened species, what is the message we’re saying to corporate interests who are the ones behind most of this type of fishing? That they don’t have to worry about us putting on the pressure yet again, in order for them to actually develop sustainable fishing techniques? Because when push comes to shove, we’ll back down, let them go back to their old ways?

    What does it say to the people who boycotted the tuna in the first place? “Oh, so sorry, but we got it wrong. Silly us. Perhaps you best not listen to us the next time.”

    If we send these messages out, we will undermine our efforts, not only now, but in the future; not only when it comes to protecting marine life, but all life.

    What the organizations such as Greenpeace and others are saying is that we made the first step with dolphin friendly tuna…but it’s not enough. Not only are unacceptable fishing practices leading to a devastating toll on other species, including rays, sharks, turtles, and other species, but the practices are taking a massive toll on the tuna, themselves. Tuna is being overfished, and according to another Greenpeace study, the techniques used may actually be adversely impacting on tuna migratory patterns.

    So even if we say, “Oh, well, we blew it. Go back, fisherman, to your bad ways, while we figure out what you should do”, eventually at some point, the whole problem will be moot because there will no longer be the tuna to catch. And not having any tuna is just as devastating to predator fish, as being a victim of a fishing bycatch.

    Good, bad, or indifferent, the only course to follow when it comes to the environment, is a forward-only course. Companies gave up one bad practice for another because of PR, so let’s turn the heat up, again. Let’s cry out, loud and clear, that the companies are not playing by the rules. That they are causing even more harm with new techniques, and if we must, then we’ll boycott them, again, until they either get it right, or get out of the business.

    But not boycott all the tuna companies. Those companies willing to change their patterns should not only be commended, but helped to succeed. Even if it means digging deeper into our pockets.

    You say that you don’t want “do not eat tuna” (or tuna boycott) as part of the equation here, because it ends the dialog (or debate). Or it would be “boring”, in your words. But I’d rather be boring and honest about what I feel is the right direction to take, then be “interesting” and choose between two paths, both equally appalling.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 22, 2009 12:37 am

      There’s a lot here that we’ll never see eye-to-eye on, but I feel strongly about one point that you made.

      ““Oh, so sorry, but we got it wrong. Silly us.”

      If we are unwilling to admit when we are wrong, no one will ever take us seriously, not should they. To refuse to admit when you are wrong is unprofessional, immature, and arrogant. I am not calling YOU any of those things, I’m just speaking in generalities.

      And make no mistake, we DID get it wrong. Modern “dolphin safe” tuna fishing practices, the practices that the conservation movement demanded that tuna fisherman adopt, are FAR WORSE for the environment than the old ways.

      I do not see the deaths of a few dolphins (not nearly enough to affect entire populations) as “equally appalling” when compared to wiping out dozens of endangered species and destabilizing entire ecosystems. I maintain that the only way that you could see the two as morally equivalent is if you believe that dolphins are more important than sea turtles, billfish, sea birds, and sharks (in other words, a desire to save what is “cute”).

      As far as wiping out all the tuna goes… “dolphin safe” fishing kills far more juvenile tuna than the old method. The old method of fishing is much more sustainable, in addition to having much lower bycatch of endangered species.

      “I’d rather be boring and honest about what I feel is the right direction to take, then be “interesting” and choose between two paths, both equally appalling.”

      I think you’re missing my point (probably because it’s late at night and I’m not explaining myself well). In the real world, I totally agree. However, this post is part of my “ethical debate” series. This series of blog posts tries to generate interesting discussions about “hot topics” in the conservation movement. In every one of them, I take the “boring” options out of discussion, not because they’re not good options for the real world, but because this series of blog posts is trying to generate interesting discussions.

      THIS is an interesting discussion, and I really appreciate you taking the time to offer such well thought-out comments and criticisms. I don’t know where you live, but where I am it is time for bed.

      • June 22, 2009 11:53 am

        “If we are unwilling to admit when we are wrong, no one will ever take us seriously, not should they. To refuse to admit when you are wrong is unprofessional, immature, and arrogant. I am not calling YOU any of those things, I’m just speaking in generalities.”

        But the original concept was not wrong.

        The original push was to either use nets and spotters to help dolphins out of the nets, or to use something other than the nets. The push was successful to protect the dolphins. Where things went wrong was the companies devising the new approach so that they didn’t have to part with any profits.

        So I’m not going to accept that the original concept was “wrong” because companies than pursued an even worse approach–following the letter of the law, rather than the intent of the process.

        The original premise was good, it’s the companies that are bad. So, I’d rather focus on punishing the companies, then the original premise.

        We will have to disagree on this one.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 22, 2009 12:46 am

      There’s a link to my other “ethical debates” in the upper right of this post (and from the main page).

      I really hope that you’ll check out some of the others, as well as the rest of what Southern Fried Science has to offer. A list of my shark science and conservation related posts can be found by clicking the “Shark Resources” tab.

      I also hope that you’ll add Southern Fried Science to the list of blogs you regularly read, and that you’ll continue to comment. Though we disagree, you clearly know what you’re talking about and would be a welcome addition to our many regular commenters.

      • June 22, 2009 11:48 am

        I will check out your other debates, and follow your writings. Thanks for the invite. I may write on this in my space, too, as I’m planning a series on eating for the environment.


  71. Colin permalink
    June 22, 2009 1:48 pm

    This is nowhere close to a fair analysis. Parts of it are true, but it’s just the right comparison. I assume that the purpose of tuna fishing is to catch x number of tuna, not to throw x number of nets into the water. The real comparison we need to make is how many dolphins/other sea animals are killed in the effort to catch x number of tuna, not how many dolphins are killed in the effort to throw x number of nets into the water.

    Look at the facts cited. Using the dolphin method, 10,000 sets of nets only catches 70,000 small tunna. Using the floating debris method, 130,000,000 small tuna are caught (1,857 times more tuna per set of nets). So you really need to multiply the entire dolphin method dat set by 1,857.

    I’ve scaled the result to show animals caught per every 10 million small tuna caught, you also catch:

    Floater (dolphin safe) method:
    2 dolphins
    39,528 mahi mahi
    10,737 sharks
    9,128 wahoo
    2,312 rainbow runners
    975 other small fish
    496 billfish
    229 yellowtail
    15 other large fish
    78 sea turtles
    4 triggerfish

    Dolphin method:
    570,000 dolphins
    14,000 mahi mahi
    0-57 sharks
    0-57 wahoo
    57 rainbow runners
    429 other small fish
    74,286 billfish
    57 yellowtail
    4,286 other large fish
    14,286 sea turtles
    0-57 triggerfish

    So the real economic conclusion on the ecosystem is drastically different. The reduction in caught dolphins is drastically larger than you make it look with your comparison—570k vs. 2. So basically, we have can completely eliminate catching dolphins while tuna fishing and still catch the same amount of tuna each year. The increase in how many other animals we catch is also drastically smaller.

    Using the dolphin safe method, we do catch drastically more sharks, mahi mahi, wahoo, rainbow runners, other small fish, and a bit more yellowtail. However, we actually catch drastically less sea turtles and bill fish, contrary to your analysis.

    Also, the real reason we are concerned with catching dolphin is that we don’t eat them. At one point, we were just catching 500,000 dolphin a year and leaving them to rot. The fact that we catch more yellowtail or mahi mahi using the dolphin safe method is not really a problem, as we will still eat those fish (and thereby reduce the need to catch them using other means).

    That leaves the fact that we catch a lot more sharks with the dolphin safe method as the only potential ecological problem with the method. We catch 15,000 more sharks per every 10 million tuna caught. I’m not sure if there is enough consumption of sharks in the world to really make use of 15,000 sharks. I frankly have no idea, but let’s assume there is not. Then it is a negative tradeoff, and that is unfortunate.

    However, it is not even close to offsetting the fact that we catch 14,000 less sea turtles we and 70,000 less billfish using the dolphin safe method (on the assumption that like dolphins, people don’t want to consume the sea turtles or billfish, catching less of them is a very nice externality). That’s not even to mention the >500,000 reduction in how many dolphins we catch—which trumps the increase in caught sharks any day of the weak.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 22, 2009 2:54 pm


      I don’t believe I’ve ever seen someone more worked up over bycatch statistics. You, sir, have a serious case of “there is something wrong on the internet” ( and need to chill out. You’re allowed to disagree- indeed, encouraged to, that’s the purpose of this series of posts. However, we’d strongly prefer if you were respectful and calm, and if you didn’t go around calling a fellow contest winner foolish for congratulating me on my win.

      “The real comparison we need to make is how many dolphins/other sea animals are killed in the effort to catch x number of tuna, not how many dolphins are killed in the effort to throw x number of nets into the water.”

      You’re certainly entitled to feel that way, but what you’re saying goes against 50 years of fisheries science practice. We use “catch per unit effort” as a standard measurement, which means what you catch per number of times you try catching things. It takes approximately the same amount of TIME to reel in the giant seine nets whether there are 25,000 tuna in it or 250,000 tuna in it. It makes absolutely no scientific sense to base bycatch off of number of tuna caught, and makes perfect sense to base bycatch off of number off times the net was deployed.

      Also, your numbers are based on catching “small tuna”, which you seem to think is the purpose of the fishery. It is not. Perhaps I could have been more clear in the original article, but “small tuna” means tuna that aren’t yet old enough to reproduce. The reason that small tuna are listed along with sharks and sea turtles is that THEY ARE BYCATCH, TOO. The fishery is trying to catch adult tuna- they have more meat per fish to sell, and they have already reproduced.

      So, what you have done is to say that we catch less bycatch species x per bycatch species y with one tuna fishing method. I completely agree- dolphin “unsafe” tuna fishing catches a lot less sexually immature tuna than dolphin “safe” tuna fishing. In other words, dolphin “unsafe” fishing is better for the long term sustainability of the tuna fishery IN ADDITION TO being better for every species except dolphins.

      • June 22, 2009 3:22 pm

        Sharkmandias for the win.

  72. Harry permalink
    June 22, 2009 6:26 pm

    You’ll have to excuse my foolishness if this has already been covered, but I disagree completely with the ideas of this and whilst I acknowledge the point being made the article wrongly assumes there are only two methods of catching tuna – one which kills dolphins and no other species and one that kills both. This is in fact false. For those of you based in UK the BBC recently showed a few progammes on sustainable fishing, of which tuna and the subject of dolphin friendly tuna came up.

    This article neglects the fact that there are three other methods of catching tuna, two of which are commercially viable:

    1. Traditional rod and line method – exactly what it says on the tin and the rate of catch is pretty extensive, plus it means the fishermen can be selective by throwing back fish which have not yet reached maturity – plus shark/dolphin and sea turtle catch is nil (see

    2. Line method – a line is extended beyond the back of the boat with multiple lines extending from it which is then dragged along. As it is nearer the surface very few charismatic megafauna are attracted to it, plus you can apply ‘tassels’ which scare off birds.

    3. Fisherman work with dolphins who effectively herd tuna into nets in return for some of the catch (not necessarily commercially viable but for smaller communities reliant on the catch a very viable option).

    Added to that the fact that you can’t justify killing something on mass at the expense of something else. Plus (going back to my reference to charismatic megafauna) there will always be a human affinity to something that resembles the traits of humans, or has the ‘fluffy factor’ (where pandas, polar bears, tigers etc are concerned). Humans consider dolphins to be intelligent and friendly – something that is generally accepted as a good thing in society and why perhaps many humans may consider them to be sentient beings. Of course they’re going to have strong feelings towards them. It’s the same with whales – they are charismatic mega fauna so people want to help them. It is essentially why the ban on whaling came about.

    As a final note the figures given are somewhat ambiguous. One makes reference to immature tuna (something which shouldn’t be being caught anyway to allow for respawn). This doesn’t say what type (i.e. is it yellowfin too?), but it also seems to forget the fact that immature tuna are smaller, so the net size will be smaller and so it will catch more. As for the mature yellowfin – well the net size will be larger allowing more species to escape.

    Just to make sure, that wasn’t intended to be a cheap shot at the author. I think the article raises important questions – just because something is labelled as being dolphin safe doesn’t mean it is eologically sound. Like many other things people should be asking where their food came from, but the options posted are (as has been mentioned previously albeit in a different way) very much the lesser of two evils. In actual fact there is the option of just not evil at all!

    I hope I get some responses to this as I very much have a healthy appetite for debate!

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 22, 2009 8:30 pm

      “the article wrongly assumes there are only two methods of catching tuna – one which kills dolphins and no other species and one that kills both.”

      Tuna companies have invested tens of millions of dollars and decades of training and focus into seine fishing technology. There are two types of fishing which utilize seine fishing technology- one which kills dolphins and no other species, and one that kills both. Practical environmentalists try to find a way to work with the fisherman rather than demonizing them and simply telling them that they need to throw away tens of millions of dollars of equipment.

      “Commercially viable” is a relative term, Harry.

      Yes, it is possible to catch tuna using rod and reel. At that rate, you can catch a few tuna per hour, if you’re pretty good at it. Compared to a few hundred tuna per hour, it’s a LOT more expensive, which is reflected in the price that you pay for “marine stewardship council” approved tuna. Again, you or I can afford to pay more for this, but many people in the Pacific depend on tuna as a food source and can’t afford to pay any more. Rod and reel also doesn’t catch anywhere NEAR enough tuna to satisfy demand.

      “immature tuna (something which shouldn’t be being caught anyway to allow for respawn).”- I agree. That’s why going back to the old, dolphin “unsafe” way is better. It kills fewer immature tuna.

      “3. Fisherman work with dolphins who effectively herd tuna into nets in return for some of the catch .” -Um… what are you talking about?

      “it also seems to forget the fact that immature tuna are smaller, so the net size will be smaller and so it will catch more. As for the mature yellowfin – well the net size will be larger allowing more species to escape” I’m not sure what you’re talking about with this, either. Smaller fish doesn’t necessarily mean you catch more. It only means that if the tuna are crammed into a tiny space, which they are not.

      If you have a healthy appetite for debate, I hope you’ll keep reading Southern Fried Science. You can also check out some other posts in my “ethical debate” series, which can be found in a link at the upper right (under the stuff about Andrew in Japan).

      • June 23, 2009 5:13 am

        “Smaller fish doesn’t necessarily mean you catch more.”

        I think Harry meant that if you aim for smaller fish you need a net with smaller holes, so the number of other species that can escape through the holes is smaller. I don’t know if they do use smaller nets or not, but that’s what I interpreted his comment to mean.

      • July 1, 2009 11:03 pm

        Cooperation cast-net fishing I’ve seen on a nature documentary once, think it happens in South America and Florida. This article describes it in Myanmar

    • MadScientist permalink
      June 22, 2009 9:50 pm

      I don’t see line fishing, much less reel fishing, as being economically viable given the volumes of tuna caught and processed. I enjoy casting hand lines while drifting over reefs in the Pacific ocean and I can catch about 3 tuna per minute; I can’t imagine doing any better with a rod and reel. Certainly long lines will catch more but they just can’t compete with enormous nets (not to mention all the hassles with deploying and maintaining the lines). So while rod and reel, and perhaps even lines, are not as damaging as trawling with large nets, these techniques simply cannot supply the tuna market.

    • July 1, 2009 8:46 pm

      Intelligent I get. And I don’t think anyone will disagree on that.
      But “friendly”. Why are dolphin considered friendly?
      Dolphins are lean, mean fighting machines that only help humans when they see something in it for themselves. Think of a three-year-old with sharp teeth and the form of a torpedo.

      • Craig Nazor permalink
        July 2, 2009 12:36 am

        Reality check – there are many, many documented cases of dolphins saving human lives, from the writings of the ancient Greeks right up through the 21st century, with no apparent reward for the dolphins. (Unfortunately, this is a plausible argument to support the belief that dolphins are considerably less intelligent than humans, because if the tables were turned, most humans certainly wouldn’t act in the same manner.) The point is that it is highly likely that dolphins are capable of altruistic behavior and that this behavior has saved human lives, and that humans by their nature are predisposed to return the favor. I find it surprising that one would speak derisively of such inclinations.

        Since humans have been environmentally selected for working together, it is hardly news that humans have collaborated with other species (almost always as the dominant partner). I would argue that humans like dolphins not because they are “cute,” but because there is an established record of interspecies communication and partnering between them. This is a hard bias to overcome.

        For those of us who find the belief that human lives are more important than the lives of all other creatures to be in itself unethical, framing the debate in the way you have is bound to elicit anger and frustration.

        If there is any personal doubt as to how to deal with this, just don’t eat tuna.

  73. Elizabeth permalink
    June 22, 2009 7:38 pm

    Some referencing wouldn’t have gone astray. Your argument is convincing but what is the source of your statistics?

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 22, 2009 8:20 pm

      References are provided in link form. Numbers come from the UCSD Economics Department, NOAA, and the Environmental Justice Foundation. Everyone one of those is linked to from the article.

  74. June 23, 2009 9:22 am

    my daughter, chandler has been urging me to read this post and i finally did and -admittedly–am blown away. so now what? i thought that i was doing my part by only buying dolphin-safe tuna. should i stop eating tuna all together, buy only dolphin-unsafe tuna or what? obviously one of the answers is to lobby greenpeace and congress but what else can we do? fortunately chandler and her friends have been giving talks locally to school groups on sharks which hopefully will raise the conscience in our area. thanks for all that you do and we look forward to reading your book when it is release

  75. whysharksmatter permalink*
    June 23, 2009 1:16 pm

    Hi, Chandler’s mom!

    Something that you can do personally is to eat only “Marine Stewardship Council” approved sustainable seafood. However, it is much more expensive than regular seafood, many stores don’t carry it, and (though every little bit helps) one person switching what they isn’t going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

    If you convince everyone you know to convince everyone that they know to switch to sustainable seafood, that might have more of an impact… but many people are uncomfortable preaching to their friends and family.

    I’d recommend watching ‘End of the Line’, a recent documentary about overfishing, if this stuff interests you. I can’t seem to post links in this comment, but if you google that phrase it should be one of the first things that comes up.

    It’s a major problem and sadly there’s no easy solution.

  76. Harry permalink
    June 23, 2009 4:28 pm

    It’s not rod and reel per se, essentially its rod and line and the number that can be caught is far more than a few per hour. And Olaf’s comment was correct, that’s what I meant.

  77. sceloporus permalink
    June 24, 2009 1:22 am

    I’m late to this debate but a few points in any case. You have limited the debate to either continuing to use FAD devices or to return to dolphin-based tuna capture. At the same time, however, you seem to be actually advocating for real policy changes; return to dolphin-based fishing. If actual policy is being considered it would seem pointless to limit the debate to two methodologies with known problems.

    In some of the comments it has been assumed that catching small tuna is a greater threat to tuna conservation than catching large tuna. If someone has some data on how this works I’d love to see it. I’m not a fisheries person but my guess is that egg production is positively related to female size. In many species mortality is far higher for juveniles than adults and it is the loss of reproductive adults (particularly in long-lived species) that can crash populations.

    Lastly, in regard to the ethics of eating or not eating tuna: tuna does feed a lot of people but it is not a cheap fish on the world market. Tuna is not a food for the poor of the world. Industrial fishing has destroyed coastal fisheries around the world, leaving little for subsistence fishing. Former subsistence fishermen now have to buy fish rather than catch it. Which is one reason that my sympathy for the investments of large industrial fishing concerns is limited. No need to demonize but there is no good evidence for fishermen as “prudent predators” without outside pressure.

  78. June 24, 2009 8:34 am

    Personally I like the fact that David limited the debate. Yes there are other fishing methods, there always have been but they have not been the ones that industrialized fishing have chosen as primary methods. The nets and FAD are the methods that have been used. It’s a critical look that shows there are often unintended consequences of even well meaning actions. Bravo.

    The dolphin safe tuna movement virtually killed the fishing industry in Ensenada, yet talking to the fishermen there, they were always working hard to reduce the number of dolphins taken as bycatch. No one at the time considered backing down the nets, or using divers in the nets as viable alternatives. Yet the fishermen were using backdowns as a control and considered wranglers (something they use today in CBA tuna).

    As for the data about the “catching small tuna is a greater threat to tuna conservation than catching large tuna”. You are right in that size is a major factor in the fecundity of tuna. A large 8 year old Pacific Bluefin will lay millions of eggs. Larger females have larger and more eggs = higher success rate. Most eggs will not make it to post larval stages as they are food for a vast number of other organisms while the are in the plankton. Then there is significant pressure on juveniles. Looking at Pacific Bluefin, there is a fishery for age 0 fish in Japan. These are fish that are about 6 months old and at max about a foot long. Pan sized tuna. There is considerable pressure on tuna juveniles, you are right. Which is why catching tuna using FADs, where the catch is almost entirely juveniles, is not smart. They have not had the chance to reproduce at all. Ever. And they never will.

    Taking too many reproductively active adults will also cause significant stock damages, but that is an issue that can be addressed more directly through responsible quotas and better stock assessments. Both of which I think we can all agree are desperately needed, especially for tuna. IATTC is a joke. Some of the IATTC reports, modeling studies, life history studies and biology reports used as references for a study done for an NGO can be found at .

  79. Colin permalink
    June 24, 2009 12:23 pm

    Thanks for the response and I apologize for any rudeness in the first post, as I wrote it quickly and didn’t really re-read the start of the post. My post on BadAstronomy was definitely ruder, and again I apologize, and if I knew you would still be reading the comments here, I never would have made that post (though I do disagree with you on one point over there. There might be no reason to criticize someone for complimenting his fellow award-winners–excepting very extreme cases. But I do think it fair for one to critcize a blogger for calling another blogpost interesting when the blogger has made a habit of calling people out for unsound analysis–especially as, at the time, I could not see how your analysis was at all sound).

    Understanding that small tuna are also bycatch might have prevented me from starting that analysis (and I don’t blame you for not clarifying, as in retrospect that makes a lot of sense in the context of your post). I also probably would have(incorrectly) imagined that the amount of small tuna that are caught is highly related to the amount of large tuna caught (I guess they aren’t correlated because only mature tuna can keep up with dolphins).

    So even under the different analysis it lookslike my numbers would need to be changed dramatically I wasn’t able to get a great analysis on this, but the following link has some good detail in bycatch/tons of tuna, though it is a bit dated (and the stats for bycatch per 10,000 sets are a bit different than cited here)

    The decrease is in dolphins is substantially more noticeable. The increase in billfish bycatch is equally noticeable; the increase in sharks is substantially less noticeable (as we are not comparing to 0 under the dolphin-safe method);the increase in Mahi Mahi and Wahoo and a few other is more noticeable.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 24, 2009 5:19 pm


      Apology accepted. It’s difficult to get tone across in text based communication, and I appreciate you coming back to explain yourself.

      Though your original analysis was based on a single incorrect assumption (i.e. that small tuna were the target species), the fact that you took the time to DO that analysis shows that you are a bright guy who cares about this planet, and that you’re willing to voice your opinion. In short, you’re exactly the kind of reader we want here at Southern Fried Science, and I hope you’ll stick around and continue to comment.

      For other similar posts to this one (ethical debates), please click on the “WhySharksMatter’s Ethical Debates” tab in the upper right. For tons of shark science, conservation, and humor related posts, click on the “shark resources” tab.

  80. June 24, 2009 8:27 pm

    Colin, I’m confused. You want to base bycatch on # tuna caught, arguing that the analysis will tip the scales more in favor of the FAD method will but the paper you link to is based originally on data from # sets. They do break it down to # of target fish caught for their end analysis. What’s more the data from the IATTC paper actually strongly supports Davids argument. If you look at the tables 3-5 the data from IATTC shows that, with the exception of Dolphins and “unidentified bony fishes”, dolphin sets were the least harmful to other species. In many cases an order of magnitude better than the next best alternative. Even IATTC’s analysis is clear that FADs are a horrible way to catch tuna.

  81. Robert Carnegie permalink
    June 25, 2009 7:13 am

    Won’t be long till international waters fishing exterminates everything in the seas anyway. I suppose we can at least eat the bycatch too so it doesn’t go to waste, or just quit eating sea fish. Okay, there are developing countries that kind of depend on fish, but they’re dead anyway because Russian and Japanese factory ships suck up all the fish that otherwise could be taken by traditional, sustainable, and extremely dangerous methods. I mean, weather is unreliable, if your community sends out small fishing boats then sometimes they don’t make it back. If you thought coal mining was grim like that…

    Dolphins are mammals and supposedly are nearly as smart as us, although maybe it’s just their expression. Fish are, well, some vegetarians eat fish. In fact, some vegetarians eat chicken. But if you kill a dolphin or a parrot, that’s a bird that can talk, so it counts as murder.

    How do we feel about farmed salmon? I can choose between tuna and salmon in the store. My government says I must eat oily fish, which I suppose means those ones and not those you never heard of before in fish pie because the species from your own neighbourhood (well, you know) are already wiped out.

    Catholic monasteries in old England used to keep fish pools, I suppose in their religion they had to.

  82. Colin permalink
    June 25, 2009 4:38 pm

    I agree that the IATTC paper supports David’s original argument. I conceded on that point. But I did not concede on my original point that the analysis of bycatch/net is less relevant than bycatch/tuna caught. The two analyses yield dramatically different results, even if both happen to support David’s conclusion. (The reason for my original comment was simply that I did not understand why one would use the bycatch/net method for this comparison–now I at least understand that it is a common metric).

    I think the most relevant comparison in that paper is between tables 3 and 5 (I would say 4 and 5, because we really want to focus on just yellowfin tuna, table 4 lacks information on total tuna discards and I imagine we still use non-yellowfin tuna). If you look at the percent difference between the log sets and dolphin sets the two sets yield different results for several species (as opposed to looking at the absolute difference–the fact that these are all higher in table 5 is simply indicative that Table 5 is measuring something on a vastly different scale).

    Table 3 vs. 5 show an (insignificantly) different percent reduction in the amount of dolphin bycatch under the dolphin method and the log method (as 0.0 dolphins are caught under the log method per 1000 tons of tuna, the ratio of improvement is hard to define; but even “unrounding” the 0.0 number to 0.04, you catch 99.88% less dolphin in Table 3 vs. only 99.87% less in Table 4).

    Meanwhile, the percent increase in bycatch of virtually every other species is significantly lower in table 3 than in table 5. It’s that difference which makes the analysis usign table 3 significantly different than the analysis using table 5 (the latter of which David did in his original post, though with slightly different data). Again, it turns out they give the same conclusion to the broad question, is dolphin safe better on average over all species. But that is somewhat a matter of chance (for instance, if you only cared about the sum of Dolphins and Marlins, table 5 would tell you to use log sets, whereas table 3 would tell you to use dolphin sets).

    • July 15, 2009 6:10 pm

      I see your point. However, the different fishing methods catch different stages of tuna ( the target fish) you can catch ten or even 50 1-2 year old pac. bluefins before you get to the weight of one 3-4 yr old and it takes upwards of 10 of the 3 yr olds to match the weight of a sexually mature 7-8 yr old. Maybe a more approriate normalization for your measurements would be weight of bycatch to weight of target?

  83. Crystle permalink
    June 26, 2009 11:58 pm

    isn’t there a way to fish for tuna without harming the ecosystem so drastically? it’s bad enough that the lives of so many marine animals are at stake but it’s just as bad to have to kill the dolphins just so the rest can live. yes, true that the dolphins aren’t a threatened species as compared to other sea turtles or sharks, for that matter, but they shouldn’t have to die just for the rest to live.

    oh. and er. nice article anyways. (:

  84. The Other Steve permalink
    June 28, 2009 10:41 pm

    I’ve got one problem with your argument.

    Dolphin-Safe is not a law. It is a logo. Only if your dolphin catch involves a method which does not slaughter dolphins may the can contain the logo. There’s been some argument over the years of how valuable this is, as it’s not always certified, but regardless… it’s a logo to award a type of behavior, to help consumers make informed choices.

    This movement wasn’t one of law, it was educating consumers to demand a particular behavior by fisheries using the Free Market. The Bush administration attempting to change the definition of the logo was an attempt to use Government to distort the Free Market. The fact that the US market has been unwilling to buy tuna that does not display the logo has nothing to do with the law, it is the choice of an educated consumer for whatever reason.

    The sad thing is, the very people you are lashing out at and attacking are also likely your only allies in this fight. So your tactics are not only stupid, but will ultimately be ineffectual.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 28, 2009 11:01 pm

      Other Steve, while dolphin safe tuna is a logo, there ARE federal laws concerning it. It is illegal to sell tuna in the United States that doesn’t carry this logo. What exactly is your point?

      “The fact that the US market has been unwilling to buy tuna that does not display the logo has nothing to do with the law, it is the choice of an educated consumer for whatever reason.”

      That’s completely, 100% incorrect. It is illegal to sell tuna in the United States that isn’t certified as dolphin safe.

      “The sad thing is, the very people you are lashing out at and attacking are also likely your only allies in this fight.”

      So it’s never ok to criticize members of your own movement? That’s a great way to facilitate progress.

      Before you call people stupid, you might want to check your facts.

  85. Robert Carnegie permalink
    June 29, 2009 6:49 am

    Well, the story about George Bush taking a pro-conservation stance based on late-breaking scientific evidence (are you surprised that no one believes that?) says “U.S. consumers have been largely unwilling to buy tuna that lacks the dolphin-safe label.” Not that they aren’t allowed to.

    I’m not sure what federal law has to do with this particular case, but as I understand it, I could invent a logo or trademark design for any purpose I might choose, maybe “not produced by unionized labour” (not sure what that would look like, or has it been done?, maybe stick-men standing in a line inside a “Not” circle like the Ghostbusters logo, or likewise but they’re parading in a circle with placards), register the trademark, and license it to businesses that abide by my principles, agree to my supervision and inspection, etc. Then I’d be protected by trademark law, although someone might consider I was infringing civil rights. Presumably if the government sets up a trademark, it works the same way – “Energy Star” comes to mind. The government also has the authority to regulate food production and importation for certain appropriate purposes, which this may or may not be but apparently that was tested in court.

    What should we be proposing to do about tuna? Leave ’em alone is not a solution, because Japan on its own is able and willing to exterminate them. On the other hand, once that’s happened, once the tuna are no more, all the other species will be safe. Or perhaps Greenpeace should go out and feed extra mercury to the tuna, and to the whales as well. I wondered about injecting the whales with AIDS or swine flu or something. It’d probably not really infect them but the price of whale meat in Japan would crash, probably. Come to think, I may recall that they eat the tuna -with- dolphin. So who says dolphin aren’t endangered?

  86. The Other Steve permalink
    June 29, 2009 10:23 am

    “Before you call people stupid, you might want to check your facts.”

    How about you start providing some links to back up your assertions? The article you linked to specifically says that US consumers would not be interested in buying tuna without the logo, and my recollection of the creation of this logo was it was just that… an education campaign.

    Hell, it even came up in the Lethal Weapon movie.

    And second of all, I did not call you stupid. I said your tactics were stupid. Quit playing the victim.

  87. James permalink
    June 29, 2009 11:16 am

    How about option #4: How about people EAT LESS FUCKING TUNA? Oh right, I guess we can just wait until the tuna are extinct.

  88. June 29, 2009 12:39 pm

    The Other Steve,

    As the prime reference to the legality of tuna importation and the creation of the Dolphin Safe logo and its regulation, I would point you to the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act (IDCPA) and its predecessor the International Dolphin Protection Act (google IDCPA). By act of congress there was (I believe still is but haven’t checked recently) an embargo on tuna from any nation where tuna fisheries occurred without “Dolphin Safe” fishing methods which matched the requirements of the Dolphin Safe logo, in full use. It destroyed the Ensenada tuna fishery, not because of an “Educational effort” but because of a government mandated embargo. Caused quite a bit of tension between the US and Mexico along with several other nations.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 29, 2009 1:24 pm

      Thanks, Eric. You rock.

  89. Corydon permalink
    June 29, 2009 11:40 pm

    Speaking of Greenpeace’s position on this particular issue, have you seen the report here:

    Industry must move towards the best methods of catching tuna by prioritising pole and line and trolling. These methods of catching tuna are already in use in various smaller fisheries and are highly targeted towards adult tuna, avoiding the bycatch associated with other methods. These fisheries are also more likely to support locally based industries in developing countries.

    I’m not a fisherman by any stretch of the imagination so I have no idea if this suggestion is feasible or not.

    Regardless, my reading of the position paper is that Greenpeace is not in favor of killing sharks and turtles while saving dolphins, but rather finding ways to avoid killing any fish you don’t intend to use. They seem to have a problem with purse seines in general.

    This article seems to imply that there is no alternative to using purse seines at all. Is that true? Or is what Greenpeace is saying (what they’re actually saying on their website, not what’s attributed to them here) true?

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 30, 2009 1:31 am

      “Hidden Catch” is an excellent report on bycatch that at no point mentions Greenpeace’s complicity in creating this situation in the first place.

      There are alternatives to purse seines- rod and reel caught tuna are “Marine Stewardship Council” approved sustainable. However, tuna caught in this way are far more expensive and can’t fill the market demand.

      The solutions Greenpeace offers, as usual, leave a lot to be desired from a practical, realpolitick perspective.

  90. June 29, 2009 11:46 pm

    A lot of interesting points raised here. Much grist for my mill.

    Another point that I have been considering is the ranking of species in some form of heirarchy. In the US we tend to value our pets highly. Most of us would rebel at the thought of eating a dog or horse. We recognize them as having some intelligence and personality. We value them above fish, cows, etc.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 30, 2009 1:29 am

      You’re absolutely right, there is a species ranking in our culture, but it’s not just for animals we interact with.

      Most Americans are never in the water with a dolphin or shark, yet most think that dolphins are cute and sharks are scary. I hate to sound like a stereotypical blogger, but “the mainstream media” has a lot to do with this.

  91. DrDeadline permalink
    June 30, 2009 1:19 am


    Thanks to Digg I stumbled into here well over an hour ago. A happy accident indeed.

    That which is transpiring here is at the heart of what I believe will be the lasting legacy of cyberspace, not the SocMed phenomenon destined to fade away the moment Demi dumps Ashton or Perez Hilton wastes his final minute of the fifteen he didn’t deserve in the first place.

    What a timely topic and a great and thought provoking read! I’ve got you bookmarked now and am looking forward to digging in deeper here.


    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      June 30, 2009 1:27 am

      Thanks, Dr. D!

      I hope you’ll check out the “Shark Resources” tab in the upper right, which has categorized shark science, conservation, humor, and multimedia posts.

      The “WhySharksMatter’s Ethical Debates” tab has posts similar to this one, with “hot topics” in environmental science.

      I hope you’ll stick around and comment on lots of posts.

  92. RTM permalink
    June 30, 2009 2:24 am

    “I’m restricting debate to the two methods of seining NOT because I believe those are the only two options, but because this post is PART OF A SERIES called “Ethical Debates” and I always restrict the debate because it makes the discussion more interesting. Please stop saying I’m arrogant, ignorant, stupid, or things of this nature because I restricted the debate to two unpleasant choices. I did that because it makes the discussion more interesting and for no other reason.”

    You are arrogant, ignorant, and stupid.

    We’re saying it, because it’s true.

    You’re not having a debate, you’re forcing people to argue between two very restrictive choices to try and force them to side with your opinion. It is VERY obvious which opinion you favor, even after just reading your inflammatory headline “The ecological disaster that is dolphin safe tuna”.

    This article has as much worth as a debate, as the recent election results in Iran have to do with democracy.

  93. brian permalink
    June 30, 2009 2:44 am

    before i read the article i thought it was going to tell me how killing less dolphins results in more fish deaths as a result of dolphins eating them.
    man, dolphins are such a$$holes

  94. Robert Carnegie permalink
    June 30, 2009 4:36 am

    So to change attitudes, I’m imagining a TV show about a boy and his shark best friend, maybe called [Ripper]. Or a film about one of the -big- sharks called [Free Scary]. And obviously, [Tubby the Tuna].

  95. June 30, 2009 9:26 am

    Why do people think that dolphins are so great? Did you ever see that episode of the Simpson’s where the dolphins took over Springfield? I guess it’s just a matter of time…

  96. mongo permalink
    June 30, 2009 9:42 am

    i couldn’t agree with you more, saving a small percent of dolphins, which recover their losses and then some each year, is worthless if it means killing off endangered turtles by the thousands and sharks and mahi mahi by the hundreds of thousands. it seems a very mammal centric point of view to think dolphins are more important than the more threatened animals in the ocean, when faced with the numbers i dont honestly know how animal rights groups can justify themselves with supporting a slaughter like this.

  97. eekamouse permalink
    June 30, 2009 10:48 am

    Sustainably caught tuna is definitely more expensive, but not hard to find. I like Oregon’s Choice Gourmet ( They use hook and line methods to catch young tuna (read: not chalked full of mercury) while leaving no bycatch in their wake. So yes, you can have the best of both worlds- you can still eat tuna while having a much smaller impact on the environment.

  98. holleris permalink
    June 30, 2009 1:10 pm

    Let’s see if I understand the logic:

    Greenpeace observes that an unacceptable number of dolphins are killed during the catching of tuna.
    They act to stop this practice.
    The industry then responds by switching to a fishing method that is better for dolphins, but proves disastrous for an even larger number of other marine animals.
    This is then the fault and responsibility of Greenpeace ???

    A more accurate assessment would, I think, be:

    The situation (regardless of the money involved) is that BOTH fishing methods have unacceptable negative impacts on marine life.
    Therefore trying to argue that – only killing 500000 dolphins/year is ok, because the alternative is to harm an even larger number of other marine animals – is simply not acceptable, and trying to make Greenpeace look like the bad guy because they will not accept this “optimal” solution is downright stupid.
    Nobody has a god-given right to catch fish and the fishing industry must therefore either develop sustainable fishing methods with an acceptable impact on other marine life, or find another way to make a living.

    • July 1, 2009 11:16 pm

      Greenpeace needs to accept some responsibility for framing the debate incorrectly.

      They explicitly targeted Dolphins, which were not being significantly effected by their depletion, just because they are cute and sympathetic targets – and in turn forced industry to adopt significantly more unsustainable and ecologically damaging practices.

      Greenpeace did not think about long term effects of such a policy shift, just about populist ecology. This is a damaging attitude, and WSM is correct to criticism them for shallowness.

  99. Lars Nelson permalink
    June 30, 2009 3:05 pm

    I agree that we need to go back to catching them by following dolphins. However, I understand your debate idea, but this needs to be researched. Possibilities include much more sophisticated nets that act as a coral and then fish are selected by going through gates by computers. Aren’t there 5 billion people on this planet that make less than $100/month? Can’t they be employed to fish for tuna that are worth more than $1,000 a piece using fishing lines? Again with technology that releases sharks and other bycatch but holds tuna? It is a lack of research that is allowing this problem to persist. There is always a better way.

  100. Robert Carnegie permalink
    July 1, 2009 8:00 am

    Exterminating all the bycatch species means dolphins have nothing to eat, anyway. They have to perform tricks in marinas to get fed. (Did I phrase that carefully enough?)

    I’m not so happy about sending poor folks out to sea to catch tuna for us. It’s dangerous there. Northern hemisphere fishing communities, those that once existed or are still clinging on, have the traditional songs about the time there was that great storm and all the fishermen died. Maybe it’s natural economics but I say it’s unfair. Send rich people instead. They have their own yachts, they can afford special nifty fishing rods…

    A problem if you set about catching younger fish is that then there are no older fish anyway, because you caught them before they got old. A bigger problem if you caught them before they made babies. Then there will still be no fish at all next year.

    Anyway, the point of the article is, the world is complicated, and well-meant actions may have unintended consequences. And really, hand on heart, do you really care about dolphins? But I do. The more I hear about actual dolphin behaviour, the more I feel they make me look classy in comparison. I should date women who work with dolphins. The standard they’ll hold me to is easier to meet. I should have thought this through sooner.

    Hey, didn’t the Yangtse river dolphin go extinct, pretty much?

  101. kate sisco permalink
    July 1, 2009 11:32 am

    Recent book: Ulanski’s book on the Gulf Stream has a part where he discusses his love of charter fishing since he is a professor at a S C university and he says that there is a surplus (legal limit of 6 in a boat) of Mahi Mahi that he calls ‘dolphin.’

    He further states that they mature at a few weeks of age, and are in no danger of being exterpiated. I just couldn’t believe I was reading it. He says he checked the stomach of one he caught and it contained a mix (supporting his claim they survive by eating anything) and even one bottlecap.

    If our college teachers are still in this mode of ‘they’ll always be more’, we are gone.

  102. July 1, 2009 12:37 pm

    Important to remember the fish mahi mahi (also known by the common name of “dolphin” dolphinfish and dorado ) is not the same as the mammal “dolphin” the generic name for any of about 40 species of toothed whales (mostly from the family Dolphinidae or in a much broader sense any of the toothed whales – all mammals.

    Mahi mahi are relatively plentiful though of course even that is a relative assessment. Seafood Watch and other organizations who take the issue very seriously have assessed US caught Mahi mahi, caught by pole and line, as being a good choice for seafood eaters.

    I’d have to see exactly what he says about the maturation rate, but many fish “mature” from planktonic stages in a matter of a few weeks. They then spend days to years (depending on species) in a non-reproductive stage before reaching sexual maturity. I’m not sure about the specific life-history of the mahi-mahi.

  103. July 2, 2009 10:27 am

    If you want dolphin safe tuna you can get it from my parents who are independent commercial albacore fishers and have been canning their own dolphin-safe hand caught fish for many years now. They sell to some supermarkets, health food stores, distributors and individuals through their website. While its harder every year to compete with the corporate tuna industry that employs cheap 3rd world labor for most of their crew & processing (west coast US fish plants are pretty much ancient history if you haven’t noticed), they manage to survive because they have high quality product and found a niche. has a video of my dad pulling in a few so you can see for yourself how it’s done. He’ll be 70 this year.

    The season is about to start so now is a good time to get an order in. My favorite is the smoked albacore.

  104. Granite26 permalink
    July 2, 2009 12:56 pm

    Tough Call. Given the two options, I’d have to say that 1 dolphin is easily worth the deaths of the huge numbers of other species. Dolphins are one of the closest things to another intelligent species on this planet outside of great apes that we’ve got.

    It’s immoral to kill them.

    That said… the bastards are intelligent. Can’t we teach/bribe them to show us where the tuna are and then get out of the way?

  105. Robert Carnegie permalink
    July 3, 2009 5:42 am

    Is it more immoral to kill an animal when it is an endangered species? And if an animal has a significant role in the ecology, isn’t killing them liable to damage that ecology even before the species is in direct danger of extinction? (Having said that, the dolphin’s role in the ecology seems to be to eat fish, and we can do that. If dolphin poop is also ecologically necessary then we’ll have to rethink.)

    You can construct an ethic that killing anything without having a purpose for doing so is immoral, or is more immoral, but the U.S. has a vocal hunting lobby, who kill things just for fun. Remember when Dick Cheney went to a hunting farm where the critters are penned up for you, and he still shot his buddy in the face?

    As for dolphins “rescuing” humans at sea, there are also dolphin-human encounters where the dolphin’s agenda seems to be sexual. If I was stranded in the ocean out of reach of land… I suppose I’d be grateful. But I hope to avoid getting into the situation.

  106. Robert Carnegie permalink
    July 3, 2009 5:46 am

    And if we give dolphins fish then they perform tricks for us. What can we do for them so that they catch fish and give them to us? (Re my own previous answer, I do not mean anything like that. Even though we have hands and they don’t.)

  107. July 5, 2009 1:13 pm

    Wrong title…
    Should be “The ecological disaster that is floating objects fishing”.
    One should not confuse the end goal with (one of) the mean to reach it.

  108. July 6, 2009 4:02 pm

    So, the purse seine net is used because it is cost effective and doesn’t catch as many dolphins.
    It does however wreak havoc upon other species.
    OK… putting aside the dolphin-safe question here… why do we consider money to be more important than the continued survival of the ocean’s ecosystem, without which there is no fishery industry, and therefore no fish to eat?

  109. July 15, 2009 11:41 am

    Hey David,

    Where did you get the idea that Greenpeace supports purse seine fishing, or using FADs?

    It doesn’t have to be about two different purse seine fishing methods. There’s also poll and line fishing.

    Greenpeace actually works far more on the issue of over fishing in general, and tuna in specific, than on saving dolphins these days.

  110. July 15, 2009 12:03 pm

    Digging back into the archives, I think maybe you’re talking about the La Jolla Agreement. From the 1998 Greenpeace press release:

    The precedent setting agreement includes a mandate requiring all countries to avoid, minimize and reduce the catch of non-target species such as dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, billfish and juvenile tuna. In this regard, it is the first international bycatch reduction program.

    Certainly sounds good all around.

  111. Janine permalink
    July 31, 2009 12:14 am

    As a high school biology teacher, I am just glad to run across this article via twitter. It will make a great lesson for my students on how dolphin safe tuna practices work and what effect this is practice is having on other marine life, as well as the ethical questions. I personally don’t like to see anything die needlessly, so I can see going back to old way of catching tuna. However, if they were to go back to the old method of looking for dolphins, isn’t there a possible way to warn and train the dolphins to get out of the way? It may sound silly, but dolphins are pretty intelligent and do pick up a wide range of sound frequencies. It might result in a good compromise.

  112. August 8, 2009 12:13 pm

    I realise this post is probably long dead and burried, but thanks so much for writing it! I honestly didn’t know any of this stuff and it was really good to find it out.

    Fishing generally is such a dodgy area, nowadays I try to only get fish from the market, where I know it’s been caught by six guys on a small boat. They don’t have any tuna…but they do have very good red-snapper, which I don’t think is endangered.

  113. August 14, 2009 10:15 am


    as well intentioned as you are you missed the point.

    The problem is clearly the overfishing of the worlds oceans, once we figure that out, there wouldn’t even be a debate as to which by catch is more of a ecological disaster.

    JD’s commnet

    Wrong title…
    Should be “The ecological disaster that is floating objects fishing”.
    One should not confuse the end goal with (one of) the mean to reach it. .

    It is wonderful to see that the original question has brought to light the basic issue however, but the basic facts are.

    Environmental organizations support the ruduction of ALL by catch

    Were fishing too much, particularly tuna .

    I liked

  114. Debra Jones permalink
    September 13, 2009 3:29 am

    There’s a huge problem that greenpeace and organisations like them have sparked most people into thinking that dolphin safe tuna is much safer and better, which Is rubbish, clearly looking at the statistics it would show otherwise that Dolphin Safe Tuna, is worse, as its clearly wiping out loads of endangered species. The problem herein seems to be that because Dolphins are intelligent etc.. that humans attribute fond feelings to them and not other marine life.. because of this endangered species are being over fished as is a lot of marine life that gets caught in the nets.

    I would like to say that I can think of a way around it, but this has happened for a very long time and I feel that its not only Greenpeace that needs re-educating but also the general public.

    The worlds oceans are already being drastically affected by fisheries, as the demand gets higher so does the fishing, put point blank, if the general public are not put in the light about the real state of things, facts, figures and places such as greenpeace are not re-educated and something done about it – hows it going to change?

    I would love to see a solution to this! Great post for raising awareness, and no matter how the post was titled or not, it does one important thing that I do believe was the point that was intended to be raised, and thats to raise awareness for the fact that dolphin safe tuna is killing huge amounts of other “endangered” marine life at their expense (fisherie methods)

    Its time things changed!

    Debra Jones.

  115. James permalink
    September 13, 2009 9:10 am

    Well, I will make my view on the matter very clear; there would be no issue if people were to rid themselves of their greed, and stop eating other animals. HOWEVER, I am aware that, for the purpose of the debate, I am not to take this stance.

    Iff (i.e. if and only if) I supported the consumption of animals, and the induced suffering thereof as a result of human activity, then I would suggest that actually, both options are equally bad and so either would be acceptable.
    Dolphins, as we should all know, are indeed mammals, and are very human-like with regards to their level of intelligence. They have an increased ability to experience suffering (much in the same way that we would experience trauma from being caught in a net and left to die, separated from our loved ones). Fish have a debated, but likely, ability to suffer, although probably not in the same intensity as intelligent mammalian suffering. So (and I hate to say this), the suffering of one dolphin is going to be matched by many more fish. However the argument of marine conservation is a strong one (if you STILL cannot understand the concept of veganism), and dolphin-friendly tuna catching is going to rapidly cause extinction to many unfortunate marine critters.

    Obviously I have hardly delved into the carnivorous debate that this one is, but am urging you all to see that neither one nor the other is ideal. Both have MAJOR downsides, and plus-points can only be conceived from comparison of two ecologically disastrous practices (if one were to simply look at the death toll data of one method, one would find no positive thing about it). Just quit with the fishing! The presumed tastiness of aquatic fauna really is worth the huge-scale suffering it causes, nor the long-term heavy metal poisoning you will receive.


    P.S. One more thing. I do not intend to start a debate on veganism. There really are no two-ways about it.

    • September 13, 2009 12:19 pm

      I here your argument, but the ability to just stop eating fish (or to turn down any food for that matter) is a luxury reserved for the wealthiest countries in the world. Island nations like Kiribati that have no arable land and receive nearly all of their protein from the sea don’t have the option to just stop fishing. And this is not a problem unique to tiny Pacific islands. Many African nations have limited agricultural resources as well.

  116. Robert Carnegie permalink
    September 14, 2009 4:54 am

    We don’t regard the centre of the desert as inhabitable, except for building casinos. Perhaps islands without agricultural land should also be regarded as uninhabitable and the population evacuated. Have you heard of St Kilda, off Scotland? One opinion is that diet (may have been heavy metal contamination even) was a factor in the decline of the resident community.

    We are well on the way to exterminating all sea fish by fishing anyway. But isn’t metal or mercury contamination in fish currently partly caused by other human activity, industrial pollution?

  117. September 15, 2009 11:04 am

    The problem isn’t that people want to save dolphins, it’s the way they are fishing for tuna, dolphin safe or not.

  118. WhatWhat permalink
    September 15, 2009 11:13 am

    According to this, Greenpeace has been advocating monitored purse seine fishing for a while, based on exactly the same problems you mention. So are you just painting them with the broad brush of “environmental groups like..” ?

    It’s quite fashionable these days to knock all them kooky hippy environmentalists, but perhaps you should take the time to separate the facts from right-wing propaganda ?

    • September 15, 2009 11:26 am

      WhatWhat, Greenpeace is indeed very critical of some aspects of modern tuna fishing practices. However, nowhere in that “hidden catch” document does it say “They’re fishing this way because we made them, our bad”.

    • September 15, 2009 12:30 pm

      Don’t confuse “criticizing aspects of environmentalism” with “knocking all them kooky environmentalists”. Continually assessing, updating, and modifying our methods based on the best available data – and yes, acknowledging when we are wrong and correcting the error – is how the environmental movement succeeds.

  119. keanon permalink
    September 15, 2009 2:01 pm

    Overfishing of commercial stocks is a widely recognized issue. I can’t feel comfortable with participating in this debate without the reduction of large-scale fishing as an option. It feels like a dangerous rhetorical exercise to me.

  120. Melanie permalink
    September 15, 2009 3:16 pm

    I totally understand your point, and understand why you want to limit the debate for the debate’s sake, but just wanted to say that this is precisely one of the many reasons that I don’t eat meat or fish.

    • Rob permalink
      October 16, 2009 8:51 am

      I agree with Melanie. While we continue to eat meat (including fish) we will simply continue to argue about which compromise causes least damage…… avoid the damage in the first place, I say…..

  121. Kathy permalink
    September 17, 2009 10:14 am

    I love your blog so much! You have so many cool things you cover it’s sometimes overwhelming….I wish so much I was as articulate as you too…..but anyway, about the dolphin-tuna situation……it’s so messed up, all of it… me your article underscores this very well… to me intentions are so relevant…Greenpeace’s intentions are so damn good…one of the coolest characteristics of our species is the ability to protect and care for others…yes, other species can do it too, but none as well as we can….but we’re all ignorant… ignorance is everywhere….the intentions of those who saw the benefits of plastic were good….but there was so much ignorance there too…..the intentions of those who created “fast food” were good maybe too…but what a mess we have with this too some would say…..and the pesticide sprayers, etc…….look it will be so good, we can grow more…..better, faster and cheaper…now look at what has happened…what to do when we learn is key…anyway, speaking of marine life…..with mind wide open please visit Jim Nolman’s site…he truly is whale man extraordinaire… a piece he wrote more than 10 years ago….when the mess is a mess gone messier, what do you do…..… amazing ideas are found in this piece….we can and must do better

  122. guy permalink
    September 17, 2009 11:07 am

    Solution?? forgive me if someone has already suggested this, however many small fisheries still troll for tuna. It would most definitely put bumblebee out of business, but there tuna tastes like crap anyway. It is not has hard as “whysharksmatter” says it is to get troll caught tuna. Large tuna processing companies are the McDonalds of tuna companies. Anyway, I know of tones of family owned/small fisheries up and down the west coast that troll to catch their tuna and make it readily available through the public from means ranging to selling it to a market, or right off the F/V.

  123. September 18, 2009 11:30 am

    better not to eat tuna for all the above reasons & ’cause it’s chock fulla mercury which is really bad for you don’t listen when people say it’s not! ‘bye

  124. Ocean Safe Tuna permalink
    September 18, 2009 11:27 pm

    Maybe if they just change the title along with the practice, people either won’t notice, or they will look it up and learn this stuff. It doesn’t seem like too far a stretch to get the public on board here. Get a book on Oprah, or get Obama to say a few words and it would be fine. Bitter pill for the far environmental left to swallow, but that’s what you get for being wrong. I wish I believed that Bush understood this and fought for it, but I don’t.

  125. September 20, 2009 7:45 pm

    Hey Whysharksmatter,

    You’ve done a great analysis and I agree with you totally – except for one point. The fact is, yes, Greenpeace did manage to get Dolphin safe tuna on the shelves, and the fisheries then moved to the deadly fishing magnets, Fish aggregation devices (FADs). But Greenpeace never gives up, and you will see that FADs and a 100% ban on FAD fishing is exactly what Greenpeace is calling for during our current Defending our Oceans shiptour in the Pacific. Here is an article we pushed for in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday.

    and some info about the Greenpeace ship tour going on right now.

    You really know your stuff and are obviously very dedicated to the issue. It would be great to do an interview with you for our Greenpeace Oceans blog. Would you be keen? If so, write to my email or contact me (Elsa Evers) at the Sydney Greenpeace office.


    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      September 20, 2009 10:14 pm

      Hi, Elsa!

      I agree that Greenpeace is lobbying against the use of FAD’s… now. I would have more respect for these efforts (and so would commercial fisherman) if you acknowledge that the reason fisherman use this technique is because you all told them not to use the other technique.

      There’s nothing wrong with saying “whoops, we made a mistake earlier, but we should do this instead now.”

      I’m happy to participate in an interview, and I’ll e-mail you to that effect.

  126. Thunnus permalink
    September 24, 2009 10:55 am

    Purse seining is unethical- period. If we continue to use purse seines (and pair trawlers) we will be assured of a future without tuna. Troll/pole fishing is the only way forward.

  127. Mike B permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:38 pm

    Unlike fish and sea turtles scientific research increasingly shows that Dolphins are intelligent beings with capabilities not far removed from those of humans. So if your ethical equation places greater weight on protecting “people” over “animals” the bycatch can be justified on those grounds alone. Imagine if an incredibly efficient produce farming technique was discovered, but the technique came with a bycatch of several thousand Mexican farm workers every year. I don’t think that would get very much traction.

    Furthermore. because dolphin tracking technique was limited to the Eastern Tropical Pacific where that behavior was present it is safe to assume that the FAD would have become widespread even without the dolphin safety movement simply because of increased demand.

    I remember the debates and literature from back in the day over dolphin safety in Tuna fishing and the alternatives were always presented as altering net technology and fishing techniques to allow the dolphins to escape. If poorly designed regulations encouraged the use of FDA fishing the regulations should be criticized, not the movement behind it.

  128. John permalink
    September 25, 2009 7:54 am

    Several things:

    The bycatch consists primarity of good edible seafood. Are the mahi mahi, wahoo, etc. kept and sold as well as the tuna? If so, it makes the bycatch issue less of an issue in my mind. Even the sharks, dolphin, and sea turtles are considered delicacies in many cultures. They obviously couldn’t be allowed to be used, though, without encouraging some fishermen to target them specifically. It would be helpful to know exactly what is being done with all of the bycatch, though. Having said that, I think that the key problem with the floating object method is the age of the tuna being caught. This will definately have the largest long-term impact on the fisheries.

    Also, I know it sounds cold, but if you’re going to be pulling these huge numbers of tuna out of the sea, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to take out some of their major predators out as well. It’s never a good thing to waste life, especially of an animal as beautiful and intelligent as a dolphin, but in terms of long-term sustainability of the tuna fisheries and balancing the predator-prey ratio, taking some dolphin with the tuna is probably a good thing. This again gets you into the dilemma of how to make the best use of and not waste the bycatch without encouraging the intentional taking of a non-target species which is endangered or protected.

    • September 25, 2009 7:59 am

      bycatch is thrown overboard, dead (or finned). If it isn’t tuna, the boat can’t land it.

    • October 29, 2009 8:43 pm

      the tuna’s main predators are probably us. any ideas?

  129. September 26, 2009 10:05 am

    smelly fish smelly fish why r they catching u
    smelly fish smelly fish stop being tasty

    smelly fish smelly fish ur making dolphins suffer
    smelly fish smelly fish dolphins hate u now

    smelly smelly smelly smelly smelely fish u make all thing die
    smelly smelly smelly smelly smelely fish why r u alive

    awsome song called
    ‘Every One Hates You!’

  130. October 8, 2009 4:57 am


    Great post. This is another example of how us humans like to exploit the rescourses we are given on our planet for pure greed and profit without a regard or respect for what we are doing to our wildlife and ecology and in return what we are doing to ourselves. Sometimes I feel guilty to call myself a human being and it makes me laugh when people say we are the most intelegent animal on this earth.

    With regards to the section you put in your post why do fish like to congrigate around floating objects in the open ocean. My thoughts on this is fish love swimming around structures, it makes them feel safe. If there is a log as you said in your post floating in the open ocean then the fish will use that log for cover to protect them selves from airial preditors like ganets and other diving birds. Also where fish gather there underwater preditors gather so you get your self alittle underwater eco system.

    As for fishing for tuna why can’t we farm tuna for the restrant and public marked. We farm beef and other livestock why not tuna? It would be more freindly to the surrounding marine ecology and also it would mean that more tune can fished in a safe way.

    Those are my thoughts. Thanks for a great post.

  131. October 8, 2009 8:04 am

    Why don’t we farm Tuna ?????

    Because farming a carnivorous species dosn’t make sense. At no other time in human history have we gone out in the wild to hunt animals to feed to farmed species.

    So it’s not like beef, BUT … in regards to beef, have you seen the film “Food Inc.” yet ?

    Of course it’s all down to economics, not nutrition.

    I have been to Japan and filmed and interviewed the scientists at the worlds only Blue Fin Tuna farm, there are many issues.

    We could just eat the herring and other things that are caught and fed to the Tuna and Salmon, it’s a lot more efficient to feed at the bottom of the food chain.

    Get the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Food Watch guide and only eat “Best Choice” and then only limit your intake there. Know where the fish came from before you eat it. Even Talipia is not always farmed responsibly (even though it is a herbiverous fish). And Avoid any fish with Mercury (And the Farmed fish have the same Mercury levels as the wild caught)

    There are only a few Farmed fish species that are farmed sustainably and responsibly. Tuna and Salmon are not ! Talapia is sometimes !

  132. Ajaine permalink
    October 11, 2009 11:58 pm

    My family is primary Tuna eaters. The world has to STOP regulating Tuna catches. The price is crazy and becoming very uncomfortable. They are not going anywhere and even if one type does, well thats nature. meanwhile my family should not suffer to satisfy a few. I become very angry reading these articles. Tuna tastes very good and is good for you as well.

    Very angry

    • October 13, 2009 4:15 pm

      The fact that you’re paying self-admittedly high prices for tuna says to me that you have no problem eating something else. It’s not like you’re surviving on your own tuna catch.

      Suck it up and get over yourself.

    • October 29, 2009 8:48 pm

      You are ignorant. Your attitude could result in causing an extinction. And this is not just nature, it is because humans have a growing population and trememdous impact on the environment. We have to be responsible. We have not always understood our impacts. As we learn, we have to make changes. Cheaper is artificial. There is value in tuna and other fish and the ocean that has nothing to do with what is on your plate or makes you happy.

  133. Rob permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:26 pm

    Sorry, I know you wanted to leave it out of the debate – but there really IS only option – to stop eating tuna (and other fish). All alternatives present just a different set of problems.

    As for Ajaine… sorry mate, but mass over-fishing is not nature. We have wiped out too many species. Your family will need to find a less reprehensible form of employment.

    As for why fish gather around floating objects – apart from being a reference point in deep seas, could it be that the algae that grows on such objects attract small fish; these in turn attract the predatory fish?

  134. October 29, 2009 8:41 pm

    I recommend canned tuna from the company American Tuna, available at a growing number of stores and even zoos and aquariums.

  135. October 30, 2009 2:48 pm

    I am not, nor do I pretend, to be an authority on tuna fishing and much less on ethical questions. What I have found is usually that the different sides in any argument (tuna fishermen or Green Peace or lobbyist or whatever) base their arguments on what they identify as logic and facts, but is really motivated by emotionl aspects. It is a fact, though quite ridiculous, that people place human emotions on animals. Dolphins versus sharks? And if anybody doesn’t like that association, what about hyenas versus lions. Media (The Lion King) has for decades presented the hyenas as the bad guys. When in fact both species are competing as nature has designed them.

  136. Ejsoboda17 permalink
    December 1, 2009 11:58 am

    I believe the numbers speak for themselves. You cannot put so many more different and diverse types of animals at risk to save a small fraction of one species that mate at an enormous rate. I do not see another way of getting around this situation either. Possibly invest in better equipment to try and bring down the amount that are killed every year.

  137. Rach permalink
    December 1, 2009 6:39 pm

    Comment removed as per Rule #5

  138. December 7, 2009 2:07 pm


    I’m looking for the source of the statistics highlighted in your post. The link only took me to the Home page of UC San Diego. A further search of their site didn’t locate the information; I’m guessing they moved it from the URL where you originally found it.

    Can you help? Thanks.

  139. December 8, 2009 8:24 am

    A bit of insight into the FAD fishing from Sushi Project as observers on a fishing Spanish fishing fleet targeting skipjacks. 

  140. January 18, 2010 1:02 am

    Took me an hour just to skim this great debate. Excuse me if I missed a few points.

    1 – I totally support Sea Shepherd. I gave up on Greenpiss and finally deleted them from my feed. They are cowards for forgetting their core issue, and greedy for asking for money for every other issue. Let them be “Souther Fried”. They are useless pests. Capt. Watson is a real hero. Lest you think he is a tyrant for throwing the drunkards off the ship, which led to a mini-mutiny, ask yourself how much steaming you’ve done in Antarctic waters. I NEVER allow drinking on any of my vessels, and I’m accident free for 26 years. Ialso stay in tropical waters. Drinking in Antarctic waters is just stupid.

    2- If you think you cannot quantify the intelligence of a cetacean then you have never been close to one. I’ve looked humpbacks in the eye, played with their babies and enjoyed conversations. I consider their life as sacred as human. I see some folks saying we can let “just a few” die” Would you say that about even one human being? Whales and dolphin lives are as sacred as human. I’ve kayaked inside huge spinner dolphin schools – with babies jumping across my kayak and doind a full 360 flip a foot before my eyes; and talked with mother humpbacks who brought their babies over to me in open seas just to show them off. I consider each lost whale or dolphin as valuable as a human life lost in Bosnia or Darfur. It’s genocide, plain and simple. Hat’s off to you, Paul Watson!

    As to tuna, I used to catch albacore in California in the 50’s when schools were a square mile, but gave it up because I don’t like killing. Now I’m Vegan and believe that if you are not, you are part of the problem and not of the solution. If you really care about our Planet, you simply must go Vegn – there is no other solution. Sorry about that. I also made the decision in 1961 (when I was 16) not to have children and stuck to my guns. I keep practicing, but always with a condom. Overpopulation is Public enemy #1 – the root problem and why this forum exists in the first place.

    Hunting is simply the perview of sexually insecure immature monsters – it’s home invasion that ends in the death of innocents. The only honest hunting license is the one that allows hunters to hunt each other. I have no symmpathy for those bastards whatseoever. When your relative is hunted down and you grieve, just remember that’s just how the animals feel, except they did not make the choice to be either hunters or targets.

    As to Pacific Islanders eating tuna, that’s rare. I’ve kayaked Hawai’i, Tahiti, Tonga, Rarotonga, both Samoas, Fiji, New Caledonia, Philippines, vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, and a few I forget now and I’ve seen bonito caught from outriggers, but few if any tuna. I’ve only paddled the South Pacific for 40 years so maybe I’m mistaken or senile, but most of their catch is reef fish.

    Humans are nothing but overgrown monkeys – we are primates, unfortunately evolved from Bonobo and Chimp, not the vegetarian mountain gorillas – but we are still primates. When I worked in cancer research it was obvious that we are not designed to eat red meat – I won’t go in to the facts regarding cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes here. What we should be eating is fruits and nuts – and that’s my diet for the past 30 years. I’m still playing rugby at 65 and my reputtion is still the same – if you think he’s evil now, just don’t piss off the Caveman! My vegan diet must be doing something right. I recently beat all my guide staff in a 65th birthday race. Tuna isn’t red meat, but IMHO it just isn’t worth the ecological destruction.

    Ling Yai (Thai for “Big Monkey” ” AKA John Caveman Gray

    PS: How do I put my Ugly mug on this forum. I don’t want to be a Mod icon!

  141. November 3, 2013 10:41 pm

    To answer the your question though – “It is poorly understood why fish in the open ocean flock in such huge numbers to floating objects, but is a near universal phenomenon. If you put a log in the middle of the ocean, within hours it will be surrounded by fish.”

    The reason that fish, turtles, sharks, dolphins etc are attracted to floating objects in the ocean is because microorganisms like these objects and will attach themselves to it. Life attracts life! So the small fish that eat these microorganisms are then also attracted to the floating objects and the bigger fish that eat the smaller fish are attracted there as well. And this continues right up the food chain. They use this method to attract sea turtles actually so they can study them (get their length, general health, dna sample and even test out new types of “hooks” for catching fish that are supposed to be safer for the turtles).

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    The Southern Fried Scientist

    Andrew is a graduate student in North Carolina studying deep sea biology. When not in the lab, he spends his time out on the water, usually swearing at his boat while simultaneously sacrificing some important tool to Poseidon in a desperate attempt to make the motor start. That is, assuming he can get his truck running long enough to actually put the boat in the water. He enjoys long walks on the beach, by necessity. Follow him on Twitter @SFriedScientist.


    David is a graduate student in South Carolina studying shark conservation. He is the author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help”. His time is divided between educating the public about sharks, spending days at a time at sea playing with sharks, and eating horribly unhealthy foods. Follow him on Twitter @WhySharksMatter.

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    Amy is a graduate student in North Carolina studying local ecological knowledge within the blue crab fishery. She spends half her life studying the most charismatic of organisms - humans - and the estuaries on which they depend. While not contemplating grand social theories, she enjoys a good jam session and watching sunsets over the estuary. Follow her on Twitter @bgrassbluecrab.

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