Costco must sue over ‘Dolphin Safe’ tuna claim

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A US judge said on Tuesday that Costco Wholesale Corp. has to file a lawsuit alleging that it falsely advertises and labels its canned tuna as “dolphin safe”, despite using fishing methods that harm and kill dolphins.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco said the plaintiff in the proposed nationwide class action plausibly alleged that Costco fraudulently promised to adhere to a higher dolphin-safe standard than required by federal law, then broke its “heightened promise.”

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Prosecutor Melinda Wright accused Costco of violating California consumer protection laws by claiming the tuna was caught with “100% monofilament leaders and circle hooks,” a practice she says is not dolphin safe and “100 percent traceable from sea to shelf.” which she said could not be verified.

Costco had filed for resignation. The Issaquah, Washington-based retailer said Wright was only speculating about the risk to dolphins in the tuna it bought, and made no promises about dolphin safety other than using a “dolphin safe” logo on labels.

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But the judge said reasonable consumers would infer from Costco’s logo and seafood sourcing statements that the fishing practices promoted “protection of and respect for” marine life, with limited negative environmental impacts.

He said this was especially important because consumers “overwhelmingly” prefer tuna labeled dolphin-safe when given a choice.

Costco did not immediately comment. Wright lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Orrick declined to comment on the merits of the case.

Wright said she paid $15 for eight cans of Kirkland Signature White Albacore Tuna in Water at a Costco in Ukiah, California, in 2021, and would not have paid it or paid less if she had known Costco’s claims were misleading.

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The case is Wright v. Costco Wholesale Corp, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 22-04343.


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