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Amended complaint alleges StarKist tuna is not dolphin-safe as represented

StarKist Tuna can with dolphin safe labeling

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “StarKist tuna, however, is not dolphin-safe. Nor is it sustainably sourced. Defendants’ dolphin-safe representations are false, misleading, and/or deceptive,” according to the plaintiffs in their amended 91-page “class action complaint” against StarKist and its owner, South Korean based Dongwon industries.

The original complaint was filed in May this year at the federal court in San Francisco by 16 US consumers, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated. The complaint alleges — among other things — that defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and misled consumers that its canned tuna products are “dolphin-safe”. (See Samoa News May 17 edition for details.)

In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs identified additional violations of federal and state laws in the US - such as Florida, New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and California.

Plaintiffs allege that defendants falsely represent that StarKist tuna products are dolphin-safe — meaning “no” dolphins were killed or seriously injured — when defendants’ tuna fishing practices kill or harm substantial numbers of dolphins each year.

And because defendants do not adequately trace or otherwise identify the tuna that is not dolphin-safe and physically segregate and store it separately from any tuna that may be dolphin-safe, defendants may not label any of their StarKist tuna products as dolphin-safe.

Plaintiffs argue that unlike several other tuna companies that sell to the U.S. market, StarKist and Dongwon, “have not adopted dolphin-safe fishing practices, such as pole-and-line, trolling, and/or hand-line catch methods, whereby fishermen catch one fish at a time and release unwanted species soon after a fish takes the bait.”

According to the complaint, had plaintiffs known StarKist tuna was not dolphin-safe and/or had defendants not represented that the tuna was dolphin-safe, plaintiffs would not have purchased the StarKist tuna products.

It also points out that StarKist processes much of the tuna it sold during the Class Period law at its American Samoa plant, for shipment to the U.S. And StarKist produced and sold canned tuna and tuna pouches throughout the United States and its territories, sold canned tuna and tuna pouches to plaintiffs and others in the United States, and engaged in the false, misleading, and deceptive advertising alleged in complaint.

Plaintiffs allege that defendants were either unable or unwilling to conduct their tuna fishing activities within the constraints of the law. And therefore, “they devised one outside of it.”

“Instead of spending money on more expensive tuna fishing, tracing and segregation operations as the laws required to label tuna as dolphin-safe, or coming clean, defendants and their RICO co-conspirators agreed to continue using cost saving, unsustainable tuna fishing methods that kill and otherwise harm dolphins,” the plaintiffs further allege.

“These methods were concealed from, among other persons and entities” — consumers throughout the United States;, and port authorities — such as Pago Pago Harbor in the village of Atu’u on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa; Guayaquil, Ecuador (where StarKist has a facility).

Defendants sought and were granted approval by the court to file a response early next month.