United States consumers boycott tuna to protect dolphins, 1988-1990


Earth Island Institute aimed to end the purse seine method of tuna fishing, to protect the dolphins killed by that process.

Time period

11 April, 1988 to 8 November, 1990


United States

Location City/State/Province

San Francisco, California
Jump to case narrative


Earth Island Institute


Marine Mammal Fund, Sea Sheperd Society

External allies

Consumers, University Students, Theta Xi at Penn State University

Involvement of social elites

Ani H. Moss (former model) and Jerome S. Moss (co-founder of A&M)


Heinz Company (Starkist Tuna), CEO Tony O’Reilly, Ralston Purina, Unicord

Nonviolent responses of opponent

None known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known





Group characterization


Groups in 1st Segment

Earth Island Institute

Groups in 2nd Segment

Sea Sheperd Society
Marine Mammal Fund

Groups in 5th Segment

Ani Moss and Jerome Moss
Theta Xi at Penn State University

Groups in 6th Segment

Ani Moss and Jerome Moss

Segment Length

5 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

Starting in the late 1950’s commercial fishing fleets began catching tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETPO) using circular purse seine nets. These nets prohibit fish from swimming downwards to escape capture. Fishing fleets were able to catch yellow fin tuna easily with this method by tracking dolphins; in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean schools of yellow fin tuna fish are found swimming below dolphins.  However, this method, called purse seine fishing, was resulting in the deaths of millions of dolphins, because dolphins would get caught up in the nets and killed as by-catch.  

In 1986, through their International Marine Mammal Project, the San Francisco-based environmental organization Earth Island Institute began demanding the end to purse seine fishing and advocating for methods considered “dolphin safe.”

In 1988, Earth Island Institute biologist Samuel Labudde began an undercover investigation in order to document and draw attention to the dolphin deaths caused by the tuna industry. Labudde went to Mexico where he was hired to work as a cook on a Panamanian tuna boat. For several months aboard the fishing vessel, Labudde secretly videotaped the deaths of hundreds of dolphins.  Some of the filmed dolphins’ beaks or dorsal fins had been broken in their struggle to free themselves; others were drowning in the nets.  Earth Island Institute produced and distributed Labudde’s footage to media outlets and schools all over the United States.

Earth Island Institute and the Sea Shepherd Society used Labudde’s footage to increase consumer awareness of the harm being caused to dolphins as a result of tuna industry practices. On 11 April 1988, a coalition of environmental groups called for a consumer boycott of the tuna companies. 

A group of twenty demonstrators picketed in front of J.H. Heinz Company office in Long Beach, producer of StarKist tuna, and at the Ralston Purina head office in St. Louis, producer of Chicken of the Sea tuna.  Demonstrators carried signs saying “Sorry Charlie—StarKist Kills Dolphins” and chanted, “Save the Dolphins, boycott Heinz.”

On 6 September 1989, fifty-two campaigners held demonstrations outside of a hotel where Heinz was holding its annual shareholder meeting. Fifty people held signs and chanted “Boycott tuna, boycott Heinz.”  Two protesters climbed a building and unrolled a banner reading “Heinz Stop Killing Dolphins,” while another demonstrator interrupted the shareholder meeting.

Sam Labudde began urging university campuses to boycott tuna products and distribute petitions asking Heinz to quit buying tuna caught by purse seine methods.  In June 1989, upon hearing about the death of dolphins, former model Ani H. Moss, enlisted the help of her husband and co-founder of A&M Records to plan a “Dolphin Awareness Evening” for actors and people involved in the film industry. Ms. Moss urged her husband, Jerome S. Moss, to meet with the Heinz CEO, Tony O’Reilly, urging him to dolphin safe practices. 

Mr. Moss heard nothing back from Mr. O’Reilly for several months until 10 April 1990 when the executive committee on the Heinz board decided to stop buying any tuna caught from boats using purse seine fishing methods. Heinz was the world’s leading tuna producer, and announced on 22 April it would buy only “dolphin safe” tuna.

Other companies, such as Ralston Purina and Unicord, producer of Bumble Bee tuna, followed suit, which meant that ninety percent of tuna sold in the United States would be caught using “dolphin safe” practices.

On 8 November 1990, the United States Congress signed the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act of 1990, formalizing “Dolphin Safe” labeling for tuna not caught with purse seine fishing methods. This act created a standard for tuna imported or exported in the United States. Consumers responded to the new labeling, and sales dropped for tuna products without the "Dolphin Safe" label.

Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project currently employs staff to around the world to monitor and work with tuna companies, fishing fleets, and canneries to ensure that "dolphin safe" policies for each company are being followed. 90% of the world's canned tuna markets have banned purse seine fishing methods, including Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

Currently (2012) "Dolphin Safe" labeling continues to be used because there are still countries that do not follow "dolphin safe" practices. In May 2012, Mexico challenged the "Dolphin Safe" label as being a violation of U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organizations ‘technical barriers to trade.’ As of June 2012, the WTO sided with Mexico and ruled that “Dolphin Safe” tuna labeling should not apply to tuna imported from Mexico, because the US standards do not accommodate for fishing methods used by Mexican companies.  


“WTO Rules Dolphin Safe Tuna Label Unfair to Mexico”. Earth Island Journal. 17 May 2012. 23 February 2013. http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/wto_rules_us_dolphin_safe_tuna_label_unfair_to_mexico/

“The Destruction of Dolphins”. The Atlantic Online. July 1989. 23 February 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/89jul/dolphin.htm

Frooman, Jeff. (1999). Stakeholder Influence Strategies. Academy of Management Review. 24.2. 194-195. Web. 23 February 2013. http://web.ku.edu/~jleemgt/MGMT%20916/PDF/Frooman1999AMR.pdf

Kanner, Bernice. “Forcing the Issues”. New York Magazine. 11 February 1991. Web. 23 February 2013. P.22. http://books.google.ca/books?id=3OgCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA22&lpg=PA22&dq=tuna+boycott+1988&source=bl&ots=NmdVqbKogh&sig=XqHXHVuX8qV0g4I11rBNLF5zLCg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=A2gtUe2SONKDrQG-0YG4BA&ved=0CGYQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=tuna%20boycott%201988&f=false

Parrish, Michael. “Film Turns Tide for Dolphins at Starkist Tuna: Environment: A rock n’ roll executive carried the public’s message: ‘People just want to let the dolphin alone’. Los Angeles Times. 14 April 1990. Web. http://articles.latimes.com/1990-04-14/business/fi-1067_1_dolphin-connection

Sahagan, Louis. “Protests Urge Tuna Boycott Over Killing of Dolphins”. Los Angeles Times. 12 April 1988. Web. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-04-12/news/mn-795_1_tuna-dolphin-kill

Waren, Bill. “Save the Dolphins: The 40 Year Battle is Renewed”. Friends of the Earth. 28 June 2012. Web. 23 February 2013.

European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign. http://www.eurocbc.org/page322.html
Earth Island Institute. http://www.earthisland.org/immp/QandAdolphinSafe.html
“Protests Urge Tuna Boycott Over Killing of Dolphins”. Los Angeles Times. April 1988. 1 March 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-04-12/news/mn-795_1_tuna-dolphin-kill
“Protesters Call for Boycott of Heinz Tuna”. Observer-Reporter. September 1989. 1 March 2013. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2519&dat=19890906&id=X7VdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=yl0NAAAAIBAJ&pg=1243,1088640
“In Protest, Fraternity Drops Tuna from the Menu”. The Daily Collegian Online. April 1990. 1 March 2013. http://www.collegian.psu.edu:8080/archive/1990/04/04-19-90tdc/04-19-90dnews-14.asp
“How Heinz Adopted New Buying Plan for Dolphin-Safe Tuna”. Toledo Blade. April 1990. 1 March 2013. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19900422&id=ODJPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DQMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5618,2377434

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Colleen Hailley, 20/03/2012