A federal appeals court in California on Monday rejected an effort by the Commerce Department to weaken the "dolphin-safe" labeling standard, which prohibits the use of large, encircling nets to capture tuna.
The Commerce Department sought to change the standard to allow tuna caught with purse nets to be labeled dolphin-safe, as long as no marine mammals are observed to be seriously injured.
A group of environmentalists, led by the Earth Island Institute, said in a 1999 lawsuit that the agency failed to perform the mandated studies required to alter the standard.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that maintained the labeling rules. The San Francisco-based appeals court concluded that the Commerce Department failed to gather sufficient scientific information to determine whether dolphins, which often swim with schools of tuna, suffer stress from being repeatedly captured in tuna nets and released.
The Commerce secretary "abused his discretion, acted arbitrarily and capriciously and not in accordance with the law" by failing to obtain and consider scientific studies, U.S. Circuit Judge Barry Silverman wrote for a three-judge panel.