I have always heard of “dolphin safe tuna” but always assumed that meant they all switched from nets to hooks or something and so avoided picking up the dolphins. An article over at Southern Fried Science lays out the details in order to set up an ethical debate.
Apparently, the primary problem was the method of finding the tuna. They used to just follow dolphins which led them to a big fat pile-o-tuna with some dolphins mixed in and scooped them all up. Now they don’t follow dolphins and sometimes instead put a big float out which attracts everything including the dolphins and then scoop them all up.
So the transfer of one method to the other in order to save one species has created another problem in accidentally grabbing up a bunch of other species. In fact
If you work out the math on this (and you don’t have to, because the environmental justice foundation did) , you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.
Ethical dilemma of the day: which way is better, saving the 4k dolphins or the 140k sharks, 120k wahoo, 30k rainbow runners; 12k other small fish, 6k billfish, 3k yellowtail, 1k sea turtles and a handful of triggerfish? (not to mention 130 million small tuna that aren’t big enough yet)
This is also complicated by the fact that we don’t really know the numbers and population replenishment for some of these other species.
No one knows for sure which method is better ecologically but I know one thing - Sharks aren’t as cute but they are way cooler! Besides, I don’t eat tuna so I’m already saving the dolphins.