Is Fishing for Dolphins Legal?


I heard something the other day about dolphin fishing and I wanted to know whether or not it was legal. So I did some research to learn out about dolphin fishing and its strange history.

So is the fishing of Dolphins legal? Fortunately for dolphins, it is illegal to hunt and fish for them in most of the world. However, some dolphins are caught accidentally in fishing nets. In addition, a few places round up thousands of dolphins for meat and exhibits, in what are called “drive hunts” every year.

How Dolphins are Fished

Dolphins are mammals, meaning they breathe air instead of water. Fishing is normally reserved for fish. The proper term for dolphin killing and capture is “hunting”.

However, many dolphins are fished by accident when fisherman seeking other prey capture dolphins in their nets. This happens much more often then we realize, and even though many tuna products state they are “dolphin safe”, they probably still kill a lot of dolphins by mistake.

All that that label means is that they follow the law, which is rather loose in terms of dolphin safety. As the demand for seafood increases, so does the danger to all kinds of marine life.

Many of us live in denial and convince ourselves that this isn’t a problem, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has stated that over 650,000 marine mammals, including dolphins, whales, seals, and turtles, are killed or severely injured each year by getting caught in fishing nets.

Often these nets are not even for catching fish but are just discarded nets floating around the ocean. This phenomenon is called “ghost fishing”. Ghost fishing is especially dangerous because we are not sure how many creatures are caught in nets, and might be a much bigger problem then we realize.

When talking about purposeful hunting of dolphins, the most common practice is called drive hunting. Drive hunting is the process of scaring dolphins and other creatures into a confined space such as a cove or bay, much like herding cattle into a corral. After being driven into these spaces, they are captured or killed for the meat market.

Where are Dolphins Hunted?

The Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, Peru, and Japan are all places that kill dolphins for meat. Japan is the most well known for this because many of the fishermen kill them out of a belief that they are pests in need of eradication. They are notorious for killing/capturing not just dolphins, but whales and other sea life that are normally protected.

Even if it is only a few places that hunt these dolphins, many places could be considered accountable for hunting them. For example, many of the dolphins that are hunted in these few places are put into captivity and shipped to places similar to California’s ‘Sea World’ to be trained and put in shows.

These dolphins can fetch up to 150,000 USD! Although most fisherman won’t see much of that money, they see enough of it to want to catch more and more dolphins.

In Taiwan, dolphin meat was referred to as ‘ocean pork’ and although illegal, was very commonly eaten and sold. This black-market of dolphin are still prevalent due to its scarcity now that dolphin hunting is illegal.

What Can I Fish Instead?

I love to fish, and there are a lot of better (and more legal) options to go after! Might I suggest some other aquatic game for your next excursion:

  • Tuna (fishing it yourself does not endanger dolphins)
  • Barracuda
  • Shark
  • Halibut

These fish are tons of fun to try and reel in and will provide a great challenge. Although you will probably need a deep sea fishing boat, you will not forget the experience you had. Due to the size of these fish, you will probably need an extra freezer.

The best part about them though is that you can be guilt-free, as opposed to contributing to the endangerment of dolphins. Also, dolphin meat is usually contaminated with harmful chemicals to the point that you don’t want to eat it anyway.

Many of us are adrenaline junkies, and these fish are sure to get your blood pumping. However, not everybody can afford to go deep sea fishing. For you, I would recommend river fishing because fish bred in rivers are strong fighters and will give you a run for your money!

Are Dolphins Endangered?

Dolphins as a whole are not endangered, however many species of dolphin are. Recently, the Baiji Dolphin was declared extinct, and many other species are critically endangered. There are still plenty of dolphins out there for now, but that might not be the case for long.

Dolphins are not only exposed to hunting pressure, but they are close to the top of their food chain and are exposed to bioaccumulated poisons such as mercury. Dolphin population is on the decline, and here are some examples:

Type of DolphinPopulation
Maui’s Dolphin55 
Hector’s Dolphin7,000
Indus and Ganges River Dolphin2,000
Vaquita560
Baiji0

What You Can Do to Help Dolphins

Although you may not be the one driving the dolphins into a cove and killing them, your actions may still contribute to their decline.

I love seafood more than most, but those delicious spicy tuna rolls at your favorite sushi place might not be as good morally as they are tasty. Tuna fishing is one of the largest reasons for the decline in dolphins, and a reduction in your consumption reduces demand.

Another way is to spread the word. This is the most important thing. If you want to change to happen then you need to convince others that the change is necessary.

One last way you can help is to refrain from going to places that contribute to dolphin hunting through capture. Check and make sure your zoo’s dolphins are bred in captivity and not taken from the wild.

Pollution is another problem that affects dolphins as well as many other species that call the sea their home. Plastic pollution is especially bad and clogs the digestive system of a variety of sea life. The reason dolphins are so full of poison is because their food is full of those same poisons that can be traced back to civilizations. If we were more careful with where we dispose of our waste, then dolphins would be one of the many species to benefit.

Related Questions:

Is dolphin meat illegal? It is illegal to sell, buy, or deal in any way with dolphin meat. Even if it was legal, most of the time it would be poisonous. It is fairly common in Taiwan however.

Does dolphin taste good? People compare dolphin meat to beef liver. When cooked it has such a dark red color that it appears black. Often it is eaten raw in Japan. No culture considers dolphin meat a delicacy.

Do tuna cans contain dolphin meat? Even though dolphins are captured in the same nets as tuna, they are not harvested and put into tuna cans for consumption.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Stripped Bass.

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