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  On Tour with the Tuna Monitors

by Mark Berman

The International Monitoring Program (IMP) was founded in 1991 to oversee tuna companies' compliance with Earth Island's Dolphin Safe labeling program. IMP was created by Brenda Killian, who devised the monitoring program to guarantee that commercially sold tuna was truly dolphin-safe. Under Killian's program, independent observers working for Earth Island Institute work tirelessly to monitor tuna vessels, docks, canneries, cold storage facilities and importers. This program - which has grown to include eleven monitors in Europe, Asia and South America - has dramatically reduced dolphin mortality in tuna fishing operations.

Following the US decision to weaken the familiar dolphin-safe label, IMP monitors launched a global campaign to recommit all dolphin-safe accredited canneries, processors, agents, importers and retailers to EII's stringent policy of dolphin-safe fishing standards. All the major US tuna companies have promised to adhere to Earth Island's true, dolphin-safe standard. But what would be the impact of the ruling overseas?

From Spain to the Philippines

In the spring of 1999, I joined our European Coordinator Paolo Bray to visit tuna canneries in Spain, Portugal, and the Azores where I was asked to explain EII's opposition to Washington's new dolphin-deadly policies. These associations all promised to keep purchasing only Earth Island approved dolphin safe tuna.

In August, I joined our IMP monitors in the Philippines and Thailand for meetings with tuna companies in Asia. The first week in the Philippines was a resounding success, thanks to Earth Island Philippines Coordinator Tersa Concepcion, who arranged a series of productive meetings with several canneries, two fishing associations, and the Tuna Canners' Association of the Philippines.

In canneries around Manila and General Santos City we were given detailed tours of the processing operation, from offloading the fish to labeling and packaging for shipment. We also reviewed each company's dolphin-safe policies and the previous three month's documentation of the catch. Each facility cooperated fully and provided letters of recommitment to Earth Island's dolphin-safe standard. Again I explained that EII's lawsuit against the Commerce Department would not affect the companies in the Philippines - as long as they adhered to their dolphin safe policy.

In General Santos City, we explored the fish-landing facility that handles both local and commercial markets, and happened upon several shark species that had been dried for sale. We were told that the fins were going to Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China. Finning is reducing shark populations worldwide. IMP monitors will document the numbers and species of shark being captured for these markets.

The highlight of my visit to the Philippines was an invitation to speak to 200 students at the Notre Dame School in General Santos City. The event was sponsored by the Earth Island Environmental Outdoor Club. This fine club, comprising students from Notre Dame and other schools, sponsors environmental education activities and hosts a range of excursions including mountain climbing, beach exploring and hiking. Earth Island tuna monitor Alfonso Pading founded the club. Alfonso's IMP associate Carlito Flores also works closely with the club.

On to Thailand

In Thailand I joined IMP Coordinator Monchaya Jadson. We met officials of several canneries in the Bangkok area and inspected documents and facilities, including the critical cold storage areas. These warehouses are vital to tracking tuna, since each container is marked with the location where the fish was caught, along with the species, the company and the boat. Most tuna inspected was from the Western Pacific; a smaller percentage came from the Indian Ocean and from small, local fisheries.

These companies - all members of the Thai Food Processors' association - want to do the right thing by supplying authentic dolphin-safe tuna. They were quick to re-commit to the Earth Island's dolphin-safe fishing standard.

Monchaya and I also visited several canneries in the port of Haadyai, on Thailand's southern coast. Our local monitor, Aphinand Maliwan, organized a visit that included inspections of the fish ports. One again, we encountered a very large shark-finning operation. IMP will be looking into the number and species of sharks being taken. It is widely believed that this fishery is not sustainable, as the vast majority of the fins appeared to be from juvenile sharks not more than 12 to 24 inches long. A new segment of our corporate certification policy requires that non of the companies granted Earth Island approval can engage in shark finning. Both the Philippines and Thailand operations agreed to comply with the new provision.

IMMP's monitoring program is more important now that we have to be more alert to the laundering of dolphin-deadly tuna into dolphin-safe markets. Thanks to our hardworking international monitors in the Philippines, Thailand,Spain, Mauritius, Ivory Coast, Italy, Costa Rica and Columbia, thousands of dolphin lives are being saved.

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