The Influence and Power of Environmentalists in Marine Trade Cases

Environmentalists worked within the policy process model to promote environmental protection in two marine trade cases of the late twentieth century. To address dolphin mortality within the tuna industry, environmentalists used scientific publications concerning direct dolphin mortality during tuna fishing to educate the public and place the issue on the political agenda (Layzer 2012, 353). The issue resulted in the creation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by Congress. It required dolphin mortality rate to diminish almost entirely in order to maintain sustainable populations; this was to be accomplished by placing an embargo on the import of fish and fish products caught using technology that harm marine mammals. These regulations resulted in an increase of foreign tuna fishing fleets operated by American fishers by circumventing such limitations (Layzer 2012, 354).

Due to delayed policy adoption and lax implementation, dolphin mortality increased and environmentalists responded boycotting canned tuna and lobbying for the termination of purse seine fishing practices, which directly murder dolphins (Layzer 2012, 355-356). Although less stringent in nature, subsequent amendments were made that regulated fish imports from countries that maintained high dolphin mortality rates in their tuna industry (Layzer 2012, 356). These amendments are an example of policy evaluation that led to policy change. To take advantage of another policy window, environmentalists once again engaged the public by educating about the devastating effects the tuna industry has on dolphins. The increase in public awareness caused American canning companies to ban their own use of purse seines, which environmentalists hoped would evoke further policy formulation by Congress. This event succeeded in creating a strict law concerning “dolphin safe” labels and created embargoes against noncomplying countries (Layzer 2012, 357-358).

The previously mentioned policies angered discriminated nations and thus ignited a slew of international appeals. Environmentalists maintained their stance and continued their efforts to have the MMPA properly implemented (Layzer 2012, 360). Environmental lobbying efforts resulted in the creation of the International Dolphin Conservation Act, which was soon after reevaluated and concluded in efforts to lift the embargo, but required research before discussions of label redefining (Layzer 2012, 364). After much back and forth in courts, the embargoes were removed from the law, but the severity of the “dolphin safe” labels was maintained (Layzer 2012, 366). These policy changes were the result of lawsuits that mandated policy evaluation.

The environmentalists’ protective goal for sea turtles in shrimping practices began with scientists’ and environmentalists’ concern with sea turtles’ threatened listings under the Environmental Species Act (Layzer 2012, 368). They together promoted the turtle excluder device (TED) as mandatory gear addition for the industry (Layzer 2012, 368-369). Congruent regulation was created, though backlash by shrimpers resulted in lax policy adoption and implementation. Environmentalists contested the lack of regulatory enforcement through court; which resulted in mandatory TED implementation in certain areas after the supply of supporting scientific studies. The enforcement of the policy was evaluated and resulted in stricter application. Fishers lobbied for the creation of what is known as the Turtle-Shrimp Law to ban imports from countries that did not prove the use of sea turtle safe techniques (Layzer 2012, 370). The law was solely implemented in neighboring international areas, rather than globally. Environmentalists once again contested the inadequate implementation that led to evaluation, though the State Department continued to implement the law on a shipment-by-shipment basis rather than a complete embargo (Layzer 2012, 372-373). This last contestation led to policy evaluation but did not result in policy change.

International contestations subsequently occurred and although environmentalists were able to prove the necessity and feasibility of such policy, they were ultimately disappointed with the prioritization of free trade instead of environmental protection. Both trade cases highlight the political importance of free trade, but also exemplify the success of unilateral trade restrictions for environmental protection. The two cases demonstrate that by working within the policy process model and through education and increased awareness, environmentalists are able to increase the power and influence they have on environmental protection policies more than by relying on individual protests and studies alone.




Bullock, G. Coke in India [PowerPoint Slides]

Layzer, J. (2012). Trade Versus the Environment: Dolphins, Turtles, and Global

Economic Expansion. In The environmental case: Translating values into policy (3rd ed., pp. 348-382). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

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