Ocean Transformed

You’re about to read one of the most incredible environmental success stories of our lifetime – the transformation of an ocean from a harrowing place to the safest ocean for dolphins.  A true example of what smart regulation and international cooperation can look like.


The 1980s were devastating years for dolphins across global oceans. Globally, there was little recognition of sustainability; fleets operated without sustainability guidelines, trapping and killing hundreds of thousands of dolphins and other marine species each year.

There were many responses to stop these poor practices and protect dolphins:

  • concerned activists launched a very successful consumer awareness initiative that pressured companies to change their behavior;
  • the US passed legislation blocking imports of tuna that were not caught in a dolphin-safe way; and
  • the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) which regulates one of the global oceans, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), launched the Agreement on International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP) – an international agreement that strictly regulates fishing practice and rigorously enforces the protection of dolphins in the ETP.

The AIDCP transformed the ETP into the safest ocean for dolphins by regulating, overseeing, and enforcing dolphin protection in the Eastern Tropical Pacific ocean.  (Unfortunately, no other oceans have this vigilance or protection, which is why global dolphin mortality is still unacceptably high.)


Protecting dolphins.  The AIDCP – to which the United States, Mexico, the European Union, and many other nations are members – transformed the ocean: dolphin mortalities in the ETP plunged by 99% by 1997, making the Eastern Tropical Pacific the safest ocean for dolphins.


To date, the AIDCP has been the only effective response to the mass-scale dolphin mortality of the 1980s and the only program that protects both dolphins and oceans.

The only science-based dolphin conservation program.  The AIDCP is the only science-based dolphin protection program, and the only initiative that is 100% transparent, 100% independently monitored, and 100% enforced.

The only dolphin conservation program that protects other species.  Just as importantly, the AIDCP is the only dolphin conservation program that protects other species, not just tuna but also sharks, rays, and turtles. Most dolphin-safe tuna programs, including the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna policy and program, compromise the heath of the ecosystem by only focusing on dolphins, often at the expense of other animals – even when many of these animals are endangered.

The AIDCP supersedes the requirements of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act – and U.S. government called AIDCP “a phenomenal environmental success story”.

Leaders in Minimizing Dolphin Morality At present, the ETP is the safest ocean for dolphins. Globally, dolphin mortality from the tuna industry tops 90,000. Under the AICDP, mortality is less than 1,000, which is at least 80% than the ecological limits.
“Unqualified Success” The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) has called the efforts of the AIDCP, including the Mexican tuna fleet’s effort an “unqualified success“, and awarded it the Margarita Lizárraga award in recognition of its “comprehensive, sustainable and catalytic initiatives” in support of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
100% Strict Enforcement As participants, each and every fishing vessel has an independent scientific observer aboard. Each and every fishing expedition is independently monitored for sustainability practices. Furthermore, tuna caught under AIDCP meets all US standards for marine mammal protection; and it supersedes US law by providing independent scientific observers on 100% vessels. The AIDCP is the only program that is science-based and independently monitored.
Seeking Zero Mortality As a result of the AIDCP’s incredible rigor, 95.4% trips have no dolphin mortality.


The Agreement for the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP) is a multilateral agreement for the protection of dolphins in the tuna fisheries in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). Adopted officially in 1998 and entering in to legal force in 1999, the Agreement was the culmination of years of work to address concerns regarding dolphin mortality in the purse-seine fisheries for tunas in the EPO.

The objectives of the AIDCP are:

  1. To progressively reduce incidental dolphin mortalities in the tuna purse-seine fishery in the Agreement Area to levels approaching zero, through the setting of annual limits;
  2. With the goal of eliminating dolphin mortality in this fishery, to seek ecologically sound means of capturing large yellow-fin tunas not in association with dolphins; and
  3. To ensure the long-term sustainability of the tuna stocks in the Agreement Area, as well as that of the marine resources related to this fishery, taking into consideration the interrelationship among species in the ecosystem, with special emphasis on, inter alia, avoiding, reducing and minimizing by-catch and discards of juvenile tunas and non-target species.

The AIDCP represents the culmination of years of work and cooperation among governments, scientists and fishermen, who worked tirelessly to develop the gear, procedures and technical knowledge utilized in today’s fishery.


The Parties to the Agreement include: United States, European Union, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Vanuatu, and Venezuela. Also, Bolivia is applying the agreement provisionally.

The work of the AIDCP is transparent, and the participation of interested stakeholders is encouraged. Accordingly, the Agreement provides for the participation of representatives from environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the tuna industry in the work of the AIDCP’s compliance body, the International Review Panel (IRP).

The AIDCP has made the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean the Safest Ocean for Dolphins.


In June 2001, the Parties to the AIDCP created the voluntary “AIDCP Dolphin Safe” label for tuna products from the EPO. The label conveys to consumers that the tuna products were caught exclusively in purse-seine sets in which there were no observed mortalities or serious injuries of dolphins when the tuna was caught, a claim backed by 100% observer coverage of participating vessels. AIDCP Dolphin Safe tuna certification is supported by a transparent monitoring, tracking, and verification system established under the auspices of the binding international agreement that includes wide participation by coastal and fishing nations of the EPO. The “AIDCP Dolphin Safe” status of tuna from the EPO is verified and tracked from the moment of capture all the way through to the point of retail sale. Tuna catches classified as AIDCP dolphin safe are kept separate aboard the fishing vessels from other catches, and are identified by means of unique tuna tracking forms (TTFs). TTF numbers accompany catches through unloading, storage, and processing, to ensure that tuna products receiving the AIDCP label are truly “dolphin safe”. In summary, the hallmarks of the “AIDCP Dolphin Safe” label are:

  • Assurance that no dolphins were observed killed or seriously injured in process of catching the tuna that bears the label.
  • It is supported by 100% observer coverage of all fishing trips made by purse-seine vessels of capacity greater than 363 metric tons, including those that fish for tunas associated with dolphins.
  • It is based on a system that requires strict compliance with the mandatory requirements of the AIDCP.
  • Compliance with these requirements is verified, and the tuna receiving the label are tracked continuously from capture to market.
  • The work of the AIDCP and the AIDCP Dolphin Safe certification system are transparent and are monitored by the IRP, which includes governments and representatives from both the tuna industry and environmental NGOs.
  • The tuna was harvested in compliance with all applicable conservation and management measures.
  • It is fully consistent with the guidelines for the certification of fishery products approved by FAO.

Please read more at the IATTC’s site:  https://www.iattc.org/DolphinSafeENG.htm