Costco Is Being Sued Over the Tuna It Sells

The plaintiff alleges that products are falsely advertised as "dolphin safe."

Mega-retailers face their fair share of lawsuits—it comes with the territory. Last summer, Walmart was sued for allegedly having lead and arsenic in certain Great Value-brand herbs and spices. And Dollar General is still dealing with an ongoing lawsuit and restraining order related to overcharging customers. Now, Costco is the one under fire, this time due to the tuna that it sells. Read on to find out why the wholesaler is being named in a new lawsuit.

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Costco tuna isn't really "dolphin safe," the plaintiff claims.

costco kirkland tuna fish
The Image Party / Shutterstock

Costco is facing a lawsuit that alleges it falsely advertises its canned Kirkland Signature White Albacore Tuna in Water, Reuters reported. According to the suit, which was filed by Melinda Wright in the Northern District of California, the wholesaler labels its products as being "dolphin safe," which implies that they "are manufactured using fishing methods that neither kill nor harm dolphins."

However, Wright outlines what she claims is the "grim reality": Costco actually uses fishing methods that "seriously injure and kill thousands of dolphins and marine life each year." The lawsuit goes on to say that Costco deliberately labels the products as dolphin-safe to make money, profiting off of "sustainability concerned consumers" and "innocent marine life." In doing so, Wright says the wholesaler has an "unfair economic advantage" over its competitors.

The lawsuit points to specific fishing techniques.

fishing boat unloading tuna
Pavel1964 / Shutterstock

Wright alleges that Costco violates consumer protection laws in California due to claims that tuna is fished with "100% Monofilament Leaders & Circle Hooks" and that it is "100% Traceable from Sea to Shelf." The lawsuit states the latter claim can't be verified, and even though monofilament (nylon) lines and circle hooks reduce entanglement risk for marine life, they can't ensure that dolphins aren't hurt or killed in the process.

The suit notes that the "dolphin safe" logo on Costco's tuna cans, which feature two dolphins alongside the text, isn't the official dolphin-safe label established by the U.S. Department of Commerce. To use that logo or a label other than the official logo, Costco would need to comply with certain conditions, namely proof that dolphins weren't harmed or killed in fishing equipment that catches tuna, a tracking and verification program for the label, and adherence to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations.

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A judge ruled that customers are likely to believe what the label says.

Judge with a gavel

Costco sought to have the case dismissed on grounds that the company doesn't make any promises about dolphin safety aside from the "dolphin safe" logo, and that Wright's suit speculates about the risk to dolphins. But on Jan. 17, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that Wright "plausibly alleged" that Costco fraudulently said it was holding its tuna to a "higher dolphin-safe standard" than required by federal law, but it then broke this "heightened promise."

Orrick also noted that customers are likely to believe they're purchasing products that are safe for marine life due to Costco's logo and its statements about seafood sourcing and advertised "protection and respect for" marine life, Reuters reported. On top of that, shoppers "overwhelmingly" prefer to purchase tuna that has a dolphin-safe label, if they have a choice, he said.

In the lawsuit, Wright claims that she paid $15 for eight cans of the Kirkland-brand tuna, believing packaging that said the product was "dolphin safe." However, she wouldn't have purchased the products if she knew the label was misleading, nor would she have "paid a 'premium' for such a valued perceived benefit."

Best Life reached out to Costco for comment on the lawsuit, but has not yet heard back.

Costco has a partnership with Bumble Bee.

bumble bee seafood cans
RozenskiP / Shutterstock

The suit notes that Bumble Bee has been providing tuna for Kirkland products since 2002—and Bumble Bee openly states that it uses longline fishing methods on its website. The tactic is known to ensnare dolphins and other marine life, according to Wright.

Bumble Bee, as well as popular brands Chicken of the Sea and StarKist, faced consumer lawsuits in 2019 due to its own "dolphin safe" label on tuna products.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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