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In George Orwell’s Animal Farm , the seven commandments that guide the animals are eventually reduced to one: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

While humans have always applied this standard to the animal kingdom (e.g., house cats are more equal than house rats), applying that maxim to the fishing industry—dolphins trump nearly all other marine species—is creating an ecological disaster.

Consider for example the effect the dolphin-first attitude has had on the tuna industry. With over four million tons caught and consumed every year, tuna has become one of the most economically important fisheries on the planet. But the means of acquiring them raises ethical and ecological concerns. Because dolphins can often be found swimming with tuna, they can be used as used as a means of tracking since they come up to the surface for air. This has historically been the most popular means of locating tuna throughout many regions of the globe. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of fishermen, dolphins are often caught in the tuna nets (before the change in methods, about 133,000 were being killed each year).

Public outcry over this process in the late 1980s and early 1990s forced tuna fishermen to adopt methods that could be certified as “Dolphin-Safe”—tuna caught by means that don’t require tracking dolphins. By 1994 only Dolphin-Safe tuna could be sold in the U.S.

But the law of unintended consequences often binds good intentions. Dolphin-Safe methods lead to the rampant destruction of other fauna. As the Environmental Justice Foundation discovered, saving one dolphin costs “382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.”

As one shark conservationist asks , “Is it worth saving dolphins, who were not and are not endangered, at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other fish species who are endangered?”

He adds: “What can you do? Either don’t eat tuna or eat ‘Marine Stewardship Council’ approved sustainable tuna, which is caught by rod and reel and has no bycatch. However, it is much more expensive, and is hard to find.” Indeed, sustainable tuna costs about three times as much (seventy-five cents an ounce compared to the twenty-five cents per ounce of typical store brand canned tuna).

How should those of us who are concerned about conservation and creation care respond? How do we balance our concern for particular species with the need to provide abundant and nutritious forms of food for the world? As a pragmatic conservationist who knows that people aren’t going to stop eating tuna, I lean toward returning to the purse seine method for tuna fishing.

But is that the right approach? Or do dolphins deserve special protection? If so, what is the proper ratio? How many sharks, turtles, and fish should die so that Flipper may live?

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