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The 3 biggest US tuna companies use fishing techniques that hurt and kill dolphins, new lawsuits claim

Bumble Bee, StarKist, and Chicken of the Sea are accused of falsely labeling their products as dolphin-safe.

Cans of tuna fish are displayed in a grocery store January 27, 2006, in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Consumers have filed class-action lawsuits against Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist, claiming the three tuna brands are falsely advertising themselves as “dolphin-safe.”

The suits, first reported by Reuters, allege that all three companies, which together control 70 to 80 percent of the domestic canned tuna market, use fishing techniques that harm or kill dolphins despite their “dolphin-safe” branding, which not only amounts to misleading advertising but also violates state and federal laws.

Instead of using the safer — but more expensive — pole-and-line method that their competitors use, through which tuna are caught individually and non-tuna catches are let go, the suits claim, the US’s three biggest canned tuna brands are using outdated, environmentally destructive methods like fishing nets, which allow fishing boats to easily catch entire schools of tuna but also often trap dolphins and other animals.

According to the suits, the companies are violating the 1990 Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act, which banned the false labeling of tuna products that aren’t actually dolphin-safe. Bumble Bee, the suit claims, uses an “alternative ‘Dolphin Safe logo’” on its tuna products even though its “tuna fishing practices kill or harm substantial numbers of dolphins each year.”

The company actually does use the pole-and-line method, but only for its Wild Selections premium brand, which is advertised as being “line caught.” On its website, Bumble Bee says it uses purse seine nets and longlines — methods that can injure or kill dolphins — to catch the fish used in its Bumble Bee-branded products.

StarKist, meanwhile, is being accused of not only mislabeling its products but also violating federal racketeering law by knowingly doing business with foreign fishing companies whose practices don’t meet national dolphin-safe standards.

The suits, which were filed in federal court in California, seek full refunds for customers who have bought tuna from these brands in the past four years, Reuters reports. StarKist declined to comment on the suit. Chicken of the Sea did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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