This article originally appeared on Undercurrent News.
Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) -- the non-profit which founded Dolphin Safe -- is preparing to ramp up efforts to limit the sale of Mexican purse seine-caught tuna in the US and Europe if the fishery is granted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
The full evaluation of the Northeastern Tropical Pacific purse seine skipjack and yellowfin tuna fisheries in Mexico was published in mid-February and opened up to a 30-day public comment period, which closed on March 18.
The comments have been sent to SCS Global Services, an independent certification body, which is now reviewing, considering and responding them.
The bid for MSC certification of the fishery has been met with ongoing opposition from environmental groups concerned with dolphin bycatch, however.
The companies fish by dropping purse seine nets on dolphin schools, which, while considered sustainable under the International Dolphin Conservation Program, remains a controversial practice that cannot be labeled "dolphin safe" in the US.
According to Dave Phillips of IMMP, which has long opposed the certification of the Mexican tuna fishery, certification would "crucify" dolphin-safe tuna brands and cause consumer confusion.
Currently, tuna can be labeled as "dolphin safe", meaning it was caught using methods that cause no harm to dolphins, or as "MSC certified", meaning it meets MSC standards but not necessarily dolphin safe standards, or both.
So far, Phillips said, no "non-dolphin safe" fisheries have been granted MSC certification, something which will change if the Mexican fishery is certified.
With the comment period close, Phillips said he expects full certification will go through, in which case he said the IMMP will "go into high gear" and work to discourage consumers, companies and retailers from buying Mexican tuna.
"We will be contacting the public, the press, the retailers and the companies saying that this certification is bogus, that's it's trying to put lipstick on a pig...this will be a big black eye to the MSC."
Phillips claimed that certification of the fishery would show "that the MSC process is fraudulent...this would be an embarrassment to the MSC".
The MSC responded by highlighting that the scores are not final and the comments still require review, after which there are two potential steps that could change the scoring of the fishery: the Final Report which takes into account the public comments and adjusts scoring and, if an objection is received, a objection process.
The organization also said that the certification has always been focused on the long term health of the entirety of a fishery's ecosystem, and said the organization's blue label remains "credible and science-based".
"We believe that the MSC standard provides the best way for independent, scientific and apolitical assessment of the sustainability of fisheries, and recognition for those fisheries which meet these robust requirements. We stand by the rigor and credibility of our program and are focused on achieving healthy oceans for all and a sustainable seafood market for the future," it said in an email to Undercurrent News.
In response to IMMP's claims that the Mexican tuna fishery is highly destructive for dolphins, Mariana Ramos, Executive Director for Pacific Alliance for Sustainable Tuna, which represents companies that produce over 90% of Mexico's tuna, said that several studies have been done on the fishery that show very low dolphin mortality.
Ramos cited the International Dolphin Conservation Program website, which states that in 2014 "95.5% of all sets made on tuna associated with dolphins were accomplished with no mortality or serious injury to dolphins. Furthermore, the total mortality of dolphins in the fishery has been reduced from about 132,000 in 1986 to a low of 800 in 2013, and 975 in 2014".
Bill Fox of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which played a role in the founding of the MSC, said that the WWF has provided specific comments on the Public Comment Draft Report "citing scoring errors, a lack of adequate support for some conclusions, and a lack of rigor in the proposed conditions and action plan".
The WWF, he said, will decide whether or not the lodge an objection once it sees the final report but has not yet made a decision to support the certification or not.
Phillips said that several large retailers and tuna companies have contacted IMMP and said "they will not touch" the tuna coming from Mexico even if it is certified.
"Tuna companies in the US and around the world are already sending us letters saying they won't touch it, they won't sell it, they won't market it, they will reject it at every level," he said.
IMMP is more concerned with sales of the tuna in the European market, where MSC certification is more demanded, than the US.
"I think that the US may be the least of the problem, I think the more likely source is in Europe, MSC has much greater traction in Europe, it’s relied upon more, and there’s no dolphin safe law in Europe…that being said, dolphin safe has spread around the world, so we have agreements with importers and retailers and brokers all over the world to commit to dolphin safe,” Phillips said.
When asked about this, the MSC said it has not heard similar objections from any major companies or retailers and said it "cannot comment on the possible scenario at this point".
"We haven't heard anything from retailers about their perspectives on potentially MSC certified tuna from the Mexican tuna fishery," it said.