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Bumble Bee Tuna’s ‘Dolphin Safe’ Claims

Lawsuit alleges company's tuna fishing methods kill dolphins, despite a "dolphin safe" logo on the can.

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Bumble Bee Tuna’s ‘Dolphin Safe’ Claims

Bumble Bee is one of three major tuna brands currently facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that it misrepresents that its tuna is sourced using “dolphin safe” methods.

The lawsuit contends that the tuna fishing methods Bumble Bee uses are in fact harmful to dolphins, among other marine life, in violation of the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act. The 1990 law says it is illegal to claim a product is “dolphin safe” if it contains tuna harvested in a manner that is harmful to dolphins. Makes sense.

The buzz doesn’t stop there.

The lawsuit against Bumble Bee goes on to allege that citing the company’s membership in the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to promote the idea of an environmentally concerned company is misleading because ISSF was created by Bumble Bee and other big tuna companies. In the eyes of plaintiffs, the foundation does not support banning or controlling unsustainable fishing techniques.

The tuna fishing techniques in question are referenced on Bumble Bee’s website:

The primary methods of catching the fish that goes into our light meat products is purse seining while longline fishing is the method used to catch the albacore that goes into our white meat products.

Purse seining involves drawing a net around a school of tuna to capture them quickly and efficiently. According to the lawsuit, this method results in many dolphins being inadvertently caught in the net alongside the tuna, since “tuna schools … often congregate with dolphin schools.” When the net is brought up, both species are found inside.

The other method is long-lining, whereby a long line with many branches bearing baited hooks is dragged behind a vessel. The bait is intended to lure tuna, but the lawsuit alleges dolphins and other marine life are drawn to it.

In a sustainability section of its website, Bumble Bee claims that the way its fish are captured is of the utmost importance to the company:

No single aspect is more important, or more central, to Bumble Bee Seafoods sustainability program than ensuring the responsible harvesting and management of fisheries from which we source — this is not only important to the environment and our consumers, but for our business as well.

Despite this claim, Bumble Bee is ranked near the bottom of Greenpeace’s Tuna Guide. The guide notes that Bumble Bee “does not offer any responsibly-caught options under its flagship brand.” However, the guide does commend the company for its Wild Selections brand that the environmental group says uses responsible fishing methods to harvest its tuna.

Bumble Bee did not respond to a request for comment. StarKist and Chicken of the Sea face similar allegations related to their use of a “dolphin safe” logo on their cans of tuna and their fishing methods.

Find more of our coverage on tuna products here.

Our Ad Alerts are not just about false and deceptive marketing issues, but may also be about ads that, although not necessarily deceptive, should be viewed with caution. Ad Alerts can also be about single issues and may not include a comprehensive list of all marketing issues relating to the brand discussed.

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