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Wildlife - Killing Wildlife

hunting animals hunters killed

Wildlife all over the world are killed for various reasons, including sport, commerce, and perceived threats to human interests.

Recreational Hunting

Hunting was originally a means of survival for humans. As societies became more dependent on agriculture and livestock, hunting gradually became more an activity of leisure, recreation, and sport than survival (though many hunters do still use the meat they procure to makeup varying degrees of their diets). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts a national survey on hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-related activities every five years. The latest survey was conducted in 2001. According to the survey, thirteen million Americans aged sixteen and over hunted wildlife in 2001. This represents about 13% of the population, but the number of hunters was down 7% from 1991 levels. The vast majority of hunters surveyed (eleven million) pursued big game, such as deer, elk, bear, and wild turkey. (See Table 3.9.) Other popular game included rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, quail, grouse, doves, ducks, geese, groundhogs, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes.

Hunters use a variety of implements to kill animals, including rifles, shotguns, handguns, and bows and arrows. Animal welfarists argue about which methods they consider the least cruel and which are associated with the smallest number of nonfatal injuries. In general, they consider firearms more humane than bows and arrows.

In January 2004 the animal protection group Fund for Animals released a report entitled A Dying Sport: The State of Hunting in America. The report provides statistics on hunter demographics and expenditures and the number of animals killed by hunting each year. According to the report, the number of U.S. hunters declined by 7% between 1991 and 2001, even though expenditures for licenses, permits, etc., increased by 22%. The decline in numbers of hunters is attributed to the decrease in the country's rural population coupled with less availability of land for hunting.

Demographic data show that in 2001 the vast majority (91%) of all hunters were male, and 97% were white. Nearly half of all hunters were between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-four years old. Hunters spent just over $642 million in 2001 on licenses, tags, and other fees required by state wildlife agencies. Total hunting expenditures were around $20.6 billion in 2001. Approximately half of this amount goes toward the cost of hunting equipment.

TABLE 3.10
Number of animals killed by hunters, 2001–02 deer season and 2002–03 season for nondeer game
SOURCE: Adapted from "Table 1. National Overview," in A Dying Sport: The State of Hunting in America, Fund for Animals, January 2004,http://www.fundforanimals.org/library/documentViewer.asp?ID=85&table=documents (accessed January 31, 2005)

Doves 22,702,000
Squirrels 22,650,000
Ducks 12,740,000
Rabbits 10,942,000
Grouse, quail, partridges 10,500,000
Deer* 6,400,000
Pheasants 5,900,000
Geese 3,379,000
Raccoons 3,090,000
*Deer number is from 2001/2002 hunting season

The FFA estimates that 115 million animals were killed by hunters during the 2002–03 hunting season. Table 3.10 provides a breakdown by species of the most hunted animals. The animal protection group In Defense of Animals claims that hunters also injure millions of other animals, damage habitats, and disrupt the eating, migration, hibernation, and mating habits of protected animals. For example, the group estimates that for every animal killed instantly by hunters, at least two wounded animals die slow painful deaths from hunting injuries. Careless hunters also kill and wound domestic animals and people each year. According to the International Hunter Education Association, there were eighty-nine human fatalities and 761 injuries related to hunting in the United States in 2002.

CANNED HUNTS.

One type of hunting conducted for commercial purposes is called canned hunting. This is a type of hunting in which animals are fenced in or otherwise enclosed in a space for the enjoyment of trophy hunters. Canned hunting dates back to at least the seventh century B.C., when the Assyrians captured lions and then released them to be hunted to death.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that there are hundreds of canned hunt operators in the United States, mostly in Texas. Many offer a "no kill, no pay" policy. The most common animals involved in canned hunting are exotic (foreign) species of antelope, deer, goats, sheep, cattle, swine, bears, zebra, and big cats. Hunters generally pay a set price for each exotic animal killed. Table 3.11 shows a price list compiled by the HSUS that gives the price range for various animals involved in canned hunts.

The HSUS and most other animal welfare groups are opposed to canned hunting. They consider it unsportsmanlike and cruel. The HSUS calls it "abuse for the sake of entertainment." Animal welfare groups TABLE 3.11
Sample prices for canned hunts
SOURCE: "Sample Prices for Canned Hunts," in Canned Hunts, The Humane Society of the United States, 2003, http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/stop_canned_hunts/sample_prices_for_canned_hunts.html (accessed March 11, 2005)

Antelope
Addax $1,200–$4,000
Antelope, Sable $3,000–$8,000
Blackbuck $750–$2,500
Blesbok $1,500–$3,000
Eland $1,200–$2,500
Gazelle, Grants $800–$2,000
Gazelle, Dama $800–$3,500
Gazelle, Thompsons $800–$2,400
Gemsbok $800–$3,500
Gnu $1,500–$4,000
Impala $1,000–$2,400
Kudu $3,500–$6,000
Nilgai $1,500
Oryx, horned Scimitar $1,500–$3,500
Oryx, Beisa $1,500–$3,500
Sitatunga $1,000–$2,500
Springbuck $800–$1,600
Waterbuck $1,500–$3,500
Cattle
Buffalo, Cape $4,000–$6,000
Buffalo, Water $3,500
Deer
Barsingha (E) $3,500
Deer, Axis $500–$1,500
Deer, Fallow $500–$1,500
Deer, Red $1,500–$6,000
Deer, Sika $700–$1,500
Goats
Goat, Angora $250–$325
Goat, Catalina $250–$325
Goat, Pygmy $350
Ibex $2,000
Tahr $2,500
Sheep
Aoudad $750–$2,000
Mouflon $400–$1,500
Sheep, Barbados $250–$350
Sheep, Corsican $250–$500
Sheep, Four-Horn $850
Swine
Wild Boar $200–$1,000
Miscellaneous
Rhinoceros (E—all except Southern white subspecies) $10,000–$20,000
Zebra, Grants $800–$2,000
Note: List is a composite based upon actual brochures/price lists from canned hunt operators.
E=Federally listed endangered species.

believe that many relatively tame animals dumped by zoos, circuses, and exhibitors wind up victims of canned hunts. These animals are not afraid of humans and make easy targets for trophy hunters.

There are many surplus exotic animals in the United States because of overbreeding. The HSUS believes that canned hunts provide a financial incentive that aggravates the problem. Unwanted and purposely overbred exotic animals are passed on by breeders and dealers to game and hunting preserves specializing in canned hunts.

TABLE 3.12
Summary of status of canned hunts for mammals in each state, as of March 8, 2004
SOURCE: "Summary of Status of Canned Hunts for Mammals in Each State, 3/8/2004," in Summary of Status of Canned Hunts for Mammals in Each State, 3/8/2004, Fund for Animals, March 8, 2004, http://www.fundforanimals.org/library/documentViewer.asp?ID=1314 (accessed January 31, 2005)

Complete ban on mammals Partial ban on mammals Mammals permitted
Arizona Delawarea Alabama New Hampshire
California Georgiab Alaska New Jersey
Connecticut Mississippic Arkansas New Mexico
Hawaii North Carolinad Colorado New York
Maryland Utahe Florida North Dakota
Massachusetts Virginiaf Idaho Ohio
Minnesota Wisconsing Illinois Oklahoma
Montana Indiana Pennsylvania
Nevada Iowa Rhode Island
Oregon Kansas South Carolina
Washington Kentucky South Dakota
Wyoming Louisiana Tennessee
Maine Texas
Michigan Vermont
Missouri West Virginia
Nebraska
aRabbits permitted.
bFox and coyote permitted.
cBan on native game animals on private shooting preserves only.
dFor hunting by dogs permitted.
ePermitted on cooperative management units.
fOne grandfathered mammal shooting enclosure permitted.
gFarm-raised deer permitted.

According to the FFA, as of March 2004 canned hunting of mammals had been completely banned in twelve states. (See Table 3.12.) Partial bans existed in seven other states. In early 2005 Congress was debating passage of two bills (S-304 and HR-1688), which together would make up the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act. This act would ban the transport of exotic animals across state lines for the purpose of being hunted in enclosures smaller than 1,000 acres, thus curbing the practice of canned hunting.

In January 2005 the Indianapolis Star reported on the case of two Indiana men accused of operating canned hunts on a 1,500-acre game ranch ("Trial Set in Hunting of Drugged Deer," January 2, 2005). According to the indictment, the ranch offered hunts of white-tailed deer that were drugged and kept in fenced enclosures. Advertisements for the ranch guaranteed each hunter a "trophy buck." The article noted that the ranch charged hunters from $4,000 to $20,000 per buck, depending on size. The ranch owner and his property manger were charged with more than thirty felony violations of the federal Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits trafficking of wildlife transported or sold in violation of state law. Authorities alleged that the men also violated several Indiana laws, including one that prohibits selling specific deer for hunting purposes.

Wildlife Control

HUNTING AS A WILDLIFE CONTROL METHOD.

Killing is often the control method of choice on federal lands, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other areas overseen by the USFWS, USFS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Park Service (NPS). According to the USFWS, 40% of hunters hunted on public lands in 2001.

Most people assume that national wildlife refuges are truly refuges, where animals are protected from hunting; however, federal law allows the government to permit secondary uses, such as hunting, on wildlife refuges if a review of the potential effects indicates that protected wildlife will not be adversely affected. Other allowed secondary uses include fishing, wildlife watching, and environmental education programs.

In 2005 hunting was permitted on 319 of the nation's 545 national wildlife refuges. Figure 3.7 shows the number of refuges open to hunting in each state. North Dakota has the most units (nineteen), followed by Alaska and Louisiana (sixteen each), Minnesota (fifteen) and Montana (fourteen).

The USFWS insists that hunting is necessary to manage wildlife populations. An agency Web site in 2005 described the role of hunting at wildlife refuges as follows: "Carefully managed hunts maintain wildlife populations at a level compatible with the environment, provide recreational opportunities, and permit the use of a valuable renewable resource."

Animal rights advocates are opposed to all hunting and bitterly criticize the federal government for allowing hunting in national refuges. On its Website in 2005, the HSUS claimed that "the sport is fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just, and caring society." Welfare groups are openly skeptical that hunting is an effective solution to overpopulation. In Defense of Animals points out that hunters seek out not starving animals but large and healthy ones. The group argues that hunting is not about conserving species but about human power, status, and collecting wild animal heads and antlers as trophies.

Deer are the animals most often associated with hunts designed to prevent overpopulation. The deer population has exploded in recent years for a variety of reasons, including lack of natural predators. The USFWS and state wildlife agencies commonly justify hunting as a humane method of killing deer that would otherwise starve because of overpopulation. They argue that death by hunting is more humane than allowing deer to slowly starve to death. Animal welfare groups believe that hunting actually aggravates population problems, claiming it upsets the natural ratio between bucks (male deer) and does (female deer) and results in higher reproduction rates. In Defense of Animals says that deer make up only FIGURE 3.7
Number of wildlife refuges open to hunting by state, as of May 1, 2004
SOURCE: Adapted from "Units in the National Wildlife Refuge System That Are Open to Hunting," in Where Can I Go Hunting?, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, May 1, 2004, http://hunting.fws.gov/wherego.html(accessed January 31, 2005)
a small percentage of the animals killed by hunters and claims that the vast majority of hunted wild species are not considered overpopulated. The group believes that sport hunting should be banned and that natural predators, such as wolves and mountain lions, should be reintroduced wherever possible to control deer populations.

Hunters just as vigorously defend their sport and their role in conserving wildlife. The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance (USSA) and Safari Club International (SCI) are major groups representing the interests of hunters. The USSA operates the Sportsmen's Legal Defense Fund (SLDF). The SLDF and the SCI intervene in lawsuits filed by antihunting groups against government wildlife management and natural resources agencies. SCI also operates Sportsmen Against Hunger, a program that donates wild game meat to hunger-relief agencies. The group says that it served more than 250 million meals in 2004; the program has been operating since 1984.

Hunting proponents note that hunting fees support government conservation programs. According to the USFWS, the duck stamp raised $622 million between its inception in 1934 and 2001, and that money purchased more than five million acres of land for the wildlife refuge system. Federal excise taxes on hunting equipment have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to conservation programs around the country. Nearly $200 million in hunters' federal excise taxes collected annually are distributed to state agencies to support wildlife management programs, the purchase of lands open to hunters, and hunter education and safety classes.

Critics claim that hunting fees account for only a small portion of the money required to operate the country's conservation programs and that the government uses money obtained from hunting fees to set aside more areas for hunting. They want greater focus on activities such as wildlife watching and environmental education at wild-life refuges.

The USFWS says that 66.1 million American adults observed, fed, or photographed wildlife in 2001. This is five times the number that hunted wildlife that year. These wildlife recreationists spent $38.4 billion on travel, equipment, and other items. This represents 35% of the total dollars spent on wildlife-related activities in 2001.

WILDLIFE TRAPPING.

A killing method that receives a lot of criticism from animal protection groups is the trapping of fur-bearing animals. Welfarists consider traps to be especially cruel because the panicked animals are often trapped for a lengthy period of time before being discovered and killed, sometimes chewing off their own limbs to escape. Trapping is used as a control method on federal lands, including refuges. It is done by refuge staff, by trappers under contract to the refuges, and by members of the public who obtain special permits.

The Animal Protection Institute (API) examined USFWS data collected in 1997 as part of an investigative study of trapping at wildlife refuges around the country. The API claims that many nontarget species were captured in body-gripping traps at refuges, including river otters, feral and domestic cats and dogs, rabbits, geese, alligators, ducks, hawks, owls, eagles, and bears. Some of these animals were killed immediately by the trapping devices or died from injuries sustained during trapping. Others were released unharmed upon their discovery by the trappers.

Fur and Other Products

Many wild animals are killed purely for their fur or parts. The most common wildlife commodities are:

  • Fur from mink, beaver, foxes, rabbits, bears, and seals
  • Hides from tigers, leopards, and other big cats
  • Rhinoceros horns, reindeer antlers, snake blood, shark fins, various organs, and the penises from seals, tigers, and rhinoceros (These items are believed by some people to act as aphrodisiacs—supplements designed to enhance sexual performance.)
  • Bones, claws, paws, fangs, brains, eyeballs, tails, and internal organs from tigers (All are used in traditional Asian medicines.)
  • Bile from wild boars, bears, and snakes (used in aphrodisiacs and traditional Asian medicines)
  • Elephant tusks (for ivory)
  • Bear paws (considered a delicacy in some Asian countries)

SEALS.

Most animals used in the fur trade are bred and raised in cages on farms. Some animals, however, are still trapped or killed in the wild, particularly seals. The killing of seals for fur was a high-profile issue of the animal rights movement during the 1970s. Greenpeace activists traveled to hunting areas to splash dye on seals and draw media attention to their slaughter.

The killing of seals caught public attention because seals—usually babies only a few weeks old—on ice floes were usually clubbed in the head, then dragged with hooks across the ice. Animal welfarists who witnessed seal hunts claimed to have seen seals skinned while still alive and conscious. Seal hunters argued that clubbing was humane and killed the seals quickly. Seals swimming in the water were shot instead of clubbed. Critics claimed that many of these seals were injured and drowned after they sank below the surface.

In 1972 the United States banned all imports of seal products. A decade later the European Union put strict importation limits on seal pelts. As a result, Canada's seal fur industry was virtually eliminated. In May 2002 U.S. News and World Report published a story on the comeback of the sealing industry (Stacey Schultz and Julian Barnes, "Red Tide Rising," May 6, 2002). According to the report, the Canadian government has been quietly paying subsidies to seal hunters to boost the economy in Newfoundland. As a result, more seals were killed annually in the early 2000s than were killed three decades earlier.

Officials complained that seals were eating large numbers of northern codfish. The codfishing industry collapsed in Canada in the early 1990s after the government imposed strict catch limits in response to declining fish counts. Thousands of fishermen were put out of work. U.S. News and World Report suggested that the Canadian government ignored scientific warnings for years that cod populations were too low and then blamed seals when the industry collapsed. Seal quotas were raised substantially, and seal subsidies were begun. The number of seals killed increased from 65,400 in 1995 to 275,000 in 1997. At the same time, pelt prices more than doubled to $20 per pelt.

According to the May 6, 2002, issue of U.S. News and World Report, the fisheries minister of Newfoundland insisted that sealers no longer receive government subsidies. However, U.S. News and World Report claimed that government agencies had provided nearly $1 million in grants and loans since 2000 to businesses involved in the seal industry. Some biologists believe that the industry would collapse without these funds.

In March 2003 the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans announced a new harp seal quota of 975,000 seals over the following three years. The New York Times reported in April 2004 that Canada's seal fur industry was larger than it had ever been due to high demand from eastern Europe and China (Clifford Krauss, "New Demand Drives Canada's Baby Seal Hunt," April 5, 2004). The article noted that baby seals are still clubbed to death on the ice, but new regulations mean that only seals older than two weeks are subject to the hunt. At this age the seals have lost their pure white fur and developed a gray spotted coat. According to the article, the renewed hunt has not aroused widespread public protest because "tougher hunting rules, including stiffer regulations to avert skinning the seals alive, have muted the effort to stop the hunt and eased the consciences of Canadians."

In 2004 many animal welfare and rights groups launched new campaigns against Canadian seal hunting. Dozens of groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, Fund for Animals, and Greenpeace, joined together to form the Protect Seals Network. The Network called for a boycott of Canadian seafood to protest the seal hunt. In March 2005 protest marches were held in major cities around the world at Canadian consulates and embassy offices. The Network hopes to reinvigorate public opposition to the seal hunts and pressure the Canadian government to put an end to them.

BIG CATS.

There is a huge market for wild animal parts throughout Asia, particularly in China. Many parts are used in traditional remedies for various illnesses and diseases. In addition, animal penises are sold as aphrodisiacs. The animal most sought after is the tiger. Tiger hides sell for as much $20,000 each, and tiger bones are ground up and used in medicines for rheumatism and arthritis. Tiger penises are used in aphrodisiacs, soups, and various medicines.

Tigers are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Leopards are classified as either endangered or threatened, depending on the location of the wild population. According to the USFWS, many tigers are worth more dead than alive. The animals breed easily in captivity and have been extremely overbred in the United States. Baby tigers are popular at zoos and animal parks, but they grow up quickly and are expensive to care for as adults. Unwanted and overbred tigers from zoos, refuges, and game parks can wind up in the hands of unscrupulous dealers who kill the animals for their valuable parts. Federal law allows the possession of captive-bred tigers, but only if their use enhances the propagation or survival of the species. It is illegal to kill the animals for profit or sell their parts, meat, or hide in interstate commerce. It is not illegal to donate the animals.

In the late 1990s federal and state wildlife officials conducted a massive undercover investigation into the trade of endangered tigers and leopards in the Midwest. In 2001 charges were brought against seventeen people. Several dealers, owners, and employees of exotic animal ranches in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas were charged with illegally purchasing, transporting, and selling four tigers. The animals were allegedly purchased from the Wild Wilderness Drive-through Safari in Gentry, Arkansas, and taken to the 5H Ranch in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where they were killed. The suit alleges that the conspirators prepared false federal forms stating that the animals were donated from one ranch to another, when in fact they were purchased with the knowledge that the animals would be killed for their parts. In February 2002 three of the people involved pleaded guilty. Additional suits were filed against several people from the Chicago area (including the owner of an exotic meat market) for killing leopards and tigers and selling their parts. Three men from Detroit were charged with buying the hides of protected tigers.

ELEPHANTS.

Ivory is a hard creamy white substance found in the tusks of African elephants and some male Asian elephants. Demand for ivory was so high during the 1900s that hundreds of thousands of elephants were poached (illegally killed) for it. Conservation groups estimate that more than half the population of African elephants was wiped out during the 1980s alone. In 1990 an international ban on ivory trade was established under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Although the ban helped to severely reduce elephant poaching, it did not eliminate the problem. The Humane Society of the United States estimated in 2005 that hundreds of elephants are still killed illegally each year for their ivory (http://www.hsus.org).

In 1997 the CITES restrictions were loosened to allow some countries to sell surplus quantities of ivory. According to a 2003 article in National Geographic, approximately 200 tons of ivory were stockpiled in more than a dozen African and Asian countries by 1998 (Hillary Mayell, "Enlist Ivory Carvers to Help Save Elephants?" June 26, 2003). This ivory accumulated through seizures from poachers and from legitimate sources, such as elephants that died from natural causes or were legally killed by game wardens. Countries with large wild elephant populations are pressing the international community to allow them to sell ivory reserves to finance expensive elephant conservation programs. Animal welfare groups fear that releasing large amounts of ivory into the market will raise demand for ivory and reinvigorate illegal trade and poaching.

A LARGE PROBLEM.

International trade in exotic animals and their parts is a multibillion-dollar industry. Donald J. Barry, the acting assistant secretary of the USFWS, noted in 1997 that such trade ranks right below drug and gun trafficking in terms of the money involved. TRAFFIC is an organization that monitors worldwide wildlife trade. According to an organization spokesperson in 2002, U.S. consumers account for approximately 30% of global trade in illegal wildlife.

Whaling and Commercial Fishing

WHALING.

Whaling has been an industry in northern seas for hundreds of years. The oil and blubber from whales were popular commodities in many markets. In the mid-1800s nearly 70,000 people were employed in the industry, but the number of whales declined dramatically through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The United States banned commercial whaling in 1928. In 1946 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded by twenty-four member countries (including the United States) as a means of self-regulating the industry and limiting the number and type of whales that could be killed. In 1986 all IWC countries agreed to ban commercial whaling after virtually all whale populations were placed under Appendix I of the CITES agreement. Whaling was still allowed for "scientific purposes," however.

Conservation and animal rights groups have complained for years that some IWC countries, particularly Japan, kill a large number of whales under this loophole. Japan reportedly kills 700–800 minke whales annually in Antarctic expeditions. The worldwide minke population is estimated to be more than one million. Whalers and some scientists say that minkes and a few other species (mainly pilot, gray, and sperm whales) are not endangered and should be subjected to controlled hunts. In 2002 Japan proposed downlisting many populations of minke and Bryde's whales from CITES Appendix I to Appendix II, making them available for commercial whaling. The proposal was voted down by CITES member nations.

In 2002 Norway asked to rejoin the IWC after dropping out ten years earlier. Norway rejoined, but with the reservation that it would not support a ban on commercial whaling. This started an internal battle within the IWC about what its role should be. Some countries believe that the IWC's focus should be entirely on conservation. Others would like to see the IWC become more industry-friendly. In 2003 Iceland announced that it would begin killing whales for research purposes. According to the Web site of the activist conservation group Greenpeace International, Iceland killed thirty-six whales in 2003 and planned to kill twenty-five more in 2004.

At the IWC's 2003 meeting, eighteen of the member countries (including the United States) sponsored a resolution called the Berlin Initiative, which clarified the primary goal of the IWC to be whale conservation. The resolution passed, and the IWC established a committee to set up a conservation agenda for the organization. Many conservation and animal organizations supported the resolution. An HSUS spokesperson noted that the IWC should not "conserve whale populations so that certain countries can then turn around and kill them." Despite these efforts, some IWC member countries pushed to overturn the ban on commercial whaling at the organization's 2004 annual meeting. A resolution was passed calling for development of a management plan by the IWC in the event that commercial whaling resumes at some point in the future. As of 2005, fifty-nine countries were members of the IWC.

COMMERCIAL FISHING.

Commercial fishing of many species is blamed for a host of environmental and conservation problems in the world's oceans. Overfishing and poor management have caused severe declines in some populations. In May 2003 researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, reported in the journal Nature that commercial fishing has decreased the world's population of large predatory ocean fishes by 90% (Ransom Myers and Boris Worm, "Rapid Worldwide Depletion of Predatory Fish Communities," May 15, 2003). These fish include blue marlin, cod, tuna, and swordfish. Scientists found that the most sought-after species were quickly diminished by overfishing and then replaced by less desirable species. These replacement species were also depleted quickly. Technological advances such as global positioning systems and sonar have allowed commercial fisherman to better find and follow great schools of fish in previously uncharted waters.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium issues a seafood guide for consumers, Seafood Watch, that lists which fish and shellfish are being harvested in a sustainable and responsible manner and which are being depleted because of overfishing and poor management. The latest guide was released in December 2004. It included items such as sardines, farmed oysters, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon as "best choices"; mahi-mahi, Alaskan king crab, and bay/sea scallops under "good alternatives"; and Chilean sea bass, imported shrimp, and farmed salmon under "avoid."

Another criticism of commercial fishing is that it endangers marine mammals and other fish besides those the fisherman want to catch. Even nontarget fish and mammals are endangered by commercial fishing. Experts estimate that thousands of nontarget specimens are killed each year after becoming entangled in fishing nets and devices. According to Earthtrust, a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii, approximately seven million dolphins were killed between 1959 and 1991 due to purse-seining in the eastern tropical Pacific. Purse-seining is a fishing technique in which giant nets are encircled around schools of fish. It is a popular way to capture tuna. Schools of tuna are frequently accompanied by pods of dolphins. In fact, some fishermen chase and set their nets around dolphins to capture the nearby tuna. Since dolphins are mammals, they require air to breathe. The dolphins can get caught and drown in the nets. Negative publicity about the problem during the 1980s led consumers to demand changes in tuna fishing and labeling.

In 1991 the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act was passed, establishing an official definition of "dolphin-safe" tuna. Canners must meet certain criteria before they can label their tuna dolphin-safe, and U.S. fishermen modified their fishing techniques to meet the criteria. Purse-seine fishing is still widely practiced by foreign fishing industries, particularly in Mexico and South America.

On December 31, 2002, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced its finding that the tuna purse-seine industry has "no significant adverse impact" on dolphin populations in the eastern tropical Pacific. This finding allows foreign fishermen using the technique to import their fish into the United States as dolphin-safe if an onboard observer certifies that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during the catch.

Critics claim that purse-seine fishing is inhumane to dolphins even if they are released from the nets alive because it can separate baby dolphins from their mothers. In January 2003 Earth Island Institute and eight other environmental, conservation, and animal welfare groups (including the HSUS) filed suit against the NMFS in federal court to halt implementation of the ruling. In August 2004 a federal judge ruled that the "dolphin-safe" label could not be used on any tuna products caught by netting dolphins.

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