Caught in the Net

The Global Tuna Industry, Environmentalism, and the State

Alessandro Bonanno and Douglas Constance

The 1973 Marine Mammal Protection Act at first appeared to be a major victory for environmentalists. It banned the use of oversized fishing nets in an attempt to save thousands of dolphins killed each year in tuna harvests. But hampered by exemptions, extensions, delays, and quotas, MMPA has instead created international turmoil in the tuna industry while still allowing some 20,000 dolphin deaths each year.

In this revealing book, Alessandro Bonanno and Douglas Constance use the tuna-dolphin controversy to explore the rapidly increasing effects of globalization on agricultural and food production. Illustrating how private industries, political institutions, national economies, and social movements have been swept into a global arena, they reach some intriguing and important conclusions about the complex and sometimes bewildering future of industry and the environment.

“The authors make a convincing case that management of the world’s ocean resources must take into account the economic realities of industry and the changing world economy.

—The Northern Mariner

“An extraordinary volume. Bonanno and Constance have succeeded in using the conflict over dolphins caught in tuna fishing nets to shed light on the transformation of the world economy that is underway—a complex struggle among labor, environmental groups, and transnational corporations over the forms that the new global economy will take, what technologies will be used, where factories will be located, and what powers nation-states will have. In short, they have synthesized and clarified the key debates of the decade. No one interested in the globalization of the world economy can afford to miss this book!”

—Lawrence Busch, author of Plants, Power, and Profit: Social, Economic, and Ethical Consequences of the New Biotechnologies

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Analyzing the controversy's outcome, they show how relatively small groups can, with effective organization, pass legislation that fundamentally changes the way corporations do business. The globalization that often results, they contend, can have wide-reaching consequences—many of them unintended and unpredictable. Following passage of MMPA, U.S. tuna processors turned to foreign suppliers of "dolphin-safe" tuna while U.S. tuna fishing corporations deserted the U.S. market—circumventing MMPA altogether. Bilateral international agreements, GATT, NAFTA, and the U.S. federal courts have intervened in the chaos and have been challenged from all sides-from the Bush Administration to Bumble Bee Tuna, from Greenpeace to the European Economic Community.

Through it all, independent owners of fishing boats have been forced out of business, U.S. processing jobs have moved overseas, and environmentalists have continued their dolphin campaign. Even those who appear to be benefiting may not be, the authors demonstrate. Despite increased opportunities for some foreign labor forces, the weakest segments—especially in developing countries—continue to be exploited.

Stressing the limits that individual nations face in the current socio-economic climate and the conflicting agendas of a variety of labor and environmental movements, Bonanno and Constance argue that the regulatory ability of any national government—even one with strong society support—must be rethought and redefined.

About the Author

Alessandro Bonanno, associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, is author of Small Farms: Persistence with Legitimation and coeditor of From Columbus to ConAgra: The Globalization of Agriculture and Food. Douglas Constance is a research associate at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and has several published articles including "Transnational Corporations and the Globalization of the Food System" in From Columbus to ConAgra.