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U.S. bars tuna from Spain, Panama over dolphins

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. Customs Service has begun blocking imports of yellowfish tuna from Spain and Panama until those nations meet dolphin-safe standards, an importing company spokesman said Thursday.

Customs took the action August 3 to settle a lawsuit brought by the company, JMS Trading, which imports yellowfin tuna from Mexico.

The company had sued the U.S. government, contending Customs unfairly allowed tuna imports from Spain and Panama -- two nations that have less-strict rules to ensure that tuna is caught with nets that do not harm dolphins.

"We were harmed in that other tuna was able to enter the country that was not subject to these rules," said Mark Robertson, the spokesman for JMS Trading. "Mexican tuna was being held to a higher standard."

Schools of yellowfin tuna often swim beneath groups of dolphins in the eastern Pacific Ocean, where fishermen use huge encircling nets that harvest both even though it is harmful to dolphins.

In 1992, Congress required all nations exporting tuna to the United States to adopt dolphin-protection programs, a move which halted imports from Mexico and Venezuela. That law was weakened in 1997 to ease trade frictions.

A federal judge in April blocked the U.S. Commerce Department from taking further steps to ease rules for the use of a "dolphin-safe" label on tuna, which is important to many American consumers. Environmental groups sued to stop the change.

Earlier this month, Mexico called for talks with the U.S. government to end restrictions on Mexican tuna imports.

"We expect to be importing Mexican tuna shortly," Robertson said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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