|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
APRIL 29, 2004
|CONTACT: Earth Island Institute
David Phillips (415) 788-3666 x145
Mark J. Palmer (415) 788-3666 x139
$10,000 Bribes to Official Observers to Falsify Dolphin Data
SAN FRANCISCO- April 29 - According to a government staff e-mail provided to federal court by Earth Island Institute, the Bush Administration knew that official government observers on Mexican tuna vessels were routinely given $10,000 bribes each trip to falsify data on the chasing and netting of dolphins.
The Bush Administration argued in court that they had not considered this key information when asserting in 2003 that netting and chasing dolphins causes no significant adverse impacts on dolphins, because it was not relevant or quantifiable.
In a ruling on April 15th, 2004, Federal Judge Thelton Henderson called the Justice lawyers arguments unpersuasive and specious. He ordered that the e-mail be included in the official Record of the case and insisted that the agency conduct a search for other documentation questioning the reliability of observer estimates.
David Phillips, Earth Island Institutes Marine Mammal Project Director stated: It is deplorable that the Bush Administration would withhold key evidence from the federal court showing that the levels of chasing and killing dolphins are fraudulently underestimated.
Phillips continued: Sadly, the Bush Administration routinely ignores science in favor of overtly political decisions that harm the environment. This time they were caught.
Earth Islands lawsuit contends that the Bush Administrations proposal to weaken the definition of the Dolphin Safe tuna label in 2003 is illegal. Tuna fishermen chase and net dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific in order to catch tuna that swim beneath the air-breathing dolphins. More than 7 million dolphins have been killed and drowned in tuna nets since the late 1950s.
Congress prohibited weakening the Dolphin Safe tuna label unless science showed that this fishing practice wasnt harming dolphins, added Phillips. The Bush Administration has blatantly ignored their own scientists, caving in to demands from Mexico that their falsely labeled tuna be allowed on US supermarket shelves.
According to the e-mail, in 1999 US National Marine Fisheries Service biologists interviewed an American fisherman who worked aboard Mexican tuna vessels. The fisherman claimed that although they always had observers onboard it was common knowledge throughout the fleet that the observers were regularly paid off to misreport what happened during the cruise... He said he had personally been onboard when the Mexican observers were handed $10,000 to report all the (tuna) catch as dolphin safe.
Under provisions of the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Act, if NMFS found that a fisherman bribed a U.S. government observer onboard a fishing vessel, the vessel fishing permit would be suspended and the fishermen subject to a $100,000 penalty and up to 6 months in jail. Bribing an official is both a civil and criminal offense under U.S. law.
When Earth Island confronted the Bush Administration with the fact that the e-mail had not been added to the official Record of the EII v Evans lawsuit, Justice Dept. lawyers responded that the e-mail was not considered or relied upon by the decision maker (Secretary Evans). Judge Hendersons April 15th Order found that:
...(D)ocuments that are before the decision-maker that go to the reliability or credibility of data relied upon by the decision-maker are plainly relevant... The governments failure to acknowledge this point is deeply troubling and reveals a glaring omission in the manner in which the record was compiled.
A final hearing on summary judgement motions for EII v Evans is expected on Monday, May 24, 2004 in Judge Hendersons chambers in San Francisco, with a final decision by the Judge expected shortly thereafter.
Plaintiffs in this case include: Earth Island Institute, Samuel LaBudde, Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, and Oceanic Society. The law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen is handling the case for the environmental community on a pro bono basis.