StarKist Seafood Co., the world's largest tuna canner, said today that it will not purchase any tuna captured in nets along with dolphins nor will it buy any fish caught with gill or drift nets.
StarKist, owned by H. J. Heinz Co., will become the first major tuna company to sell only "dolphin-safe" tuna for human and cat consumption.
Heinz Chairman Anthony J. F. O'Reilly said the decision will cost consumers "a couple of cents" extra on each can of tuna.
Dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, a coastal zone from Chile to Southern California, customarily swim above schools of yellowfin tuna for reasons biologists cannot fully explain. When nets are spread out to catch tuna, dolphin are often caught as well, killing or maiming them.
StarKist said it will buy only tuna that has been certified as dolphin-safe by an observer on a tuna boat. Currently, there are observers on every tuna boat in the U.S. fleet and on 30% of the foreign fleet.
Also, StarKist will continue its practice of refusing to buy any fish caught with gill or drift nets, known to be dangerous to marine life. They are sometimes 40 miles in length. However, it will buy fish caught with purse-seine netting.
Within three months cans of StarKist tuna sold in the United States will carry labels with the message, "No harm to dolphins."
Environmentalists applauded the decision, with Greenpeace saying StarKist's leadership can help the rest of the tuna industry end its role in marine mammal killings.