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An Ex-Presidential Ban Is Imposed on Tuna

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former President Gerald R. Ford has banned tuna at his family table. But he’s not worried about dolphins. He wants to save U.S. fishermen.

“I am sad and angry, " Ford fumed in a May 4 letter to the three big tuna canners, who announced recently that they wouldn’t buy any tuna caught in ways that kill dolphins. “This is a clear-cut case of unfair discrimination against American fishermen.”

Ford continued, “Your decision means you will buy tuna from foreign sources where there is no monitoring of the dolphin kill . . . The Ford family has always enjoyed tuna. However, we have now decided to remove tuna from our family menu.”

The American Tunaboat Assn. and others have charged that the canners’ ban on tuna caught in connection with dolphins will only encourage foreign fishermen to use such techniques more, while forcing the U.S. fleet to make expensive changes in technique or get out of fishing altogether.

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Needless to say, the canners think otherwise.

“I think he’s got some of the facts confused, or whoever is helping him out here is a little bit confused,” said Daniel P. Sullivan, president of San Diego-based Bumble Bee Seafoods Co., one of the targets of Ford’s ire along with H.J. Heinz Co., which owns StarKist Seafoods, and Van Camp Seafood Co.

Environmentalists used tougher language.

“I don’t think he has the slightest bit of knowledge about this issue,” said Samuel LaBudde, a former federal fisheries biologist and long-time environmental activist. “These vessel-owners are multimillionaires, and they can afford to fish in ways that do not slaughter dolphins.”

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StarKist “will continue to buy from American fishermen who are ‘dolphin safe,’ ” reads the letter that StarKist intends to mail today in response, said Bill Fallon, StarKist vice president. “We have made specific proposals to the U.S. government and to Congress to protect the livelihood of the American fisherman . . . “

Bumble Bee also plans to answer Ford’s letter in the next few days, Sullivan said.

“In fact, we would not expect any real decrease in the amount of U.S. fish that we will buy,” he said. “The indication in the letter is that we will be buying fish from foreign-flag vessels that don’t follow the rules, and that simply isn’t the case.”

This isn’t the ex-president’s only brush with tuna. Ford’s son, Jack, recently married Juliann Felando. Her father, August Felando, happens to be president of the American Tunaboat Assn.

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That had nothing to do with it, a spokeswoman says.

“It originated with President Ford,” said Penny Circle, Ford’s chief of staff.


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