Why did the fishermen kill the dolphin?
Excerpt from the February 1993 video by Romero and Agudo. (2)
Shark fishers falsely believed in the efficacy of dolphin as shark bait. Dolphins were protected by Venezuelan law, but fishing industry officials didn't enforce the regulations. Romero and Agudo combined their video with other documentation and presented it to the Venezuelan government as evidence of the need for education and for better enforcement of tougher laws. In fact, as noted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1947, Venezuelan fisherman had been using dolphin meat as shark bait for decades. (3)
Shark fishers weren't the only Venezuelans endangering dolphins. Tuna fishermen used purse seine nets to target tuna swimming with dolphins: theoretically the dolphins are released unharmed, but in reality things go wrong resulting in dolphin deaths. Venezuela was a huge tuna exporter with a poor marine mammal protection record. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government imposed embargoes against Venezuelan tuna, which affected Venezuelan economic interests.
Why did the Venezuelan authorities react so strongly to the televised video footage?
The inclusion of a brief segment of the Romero/Agudo video in a CNN broadcast inspired thousands of animal rights activists to write angry letters to the Venezuelan government. Perhaps the Venezuelan authorities feared this additional attention on the government's lax attitude toward dolphin safety would intensify U.S. embargos and further debilitate the Venezuelan economy. In a Wall Street Journal article, (4) the former Venezuelan fisheries minister details an elaborate "conspiracy theory" in which Romero is imagined as an agent of the U.S. tuna industry.
2. The full video (1 hour, 53 min.) is available on DVD in box 654 of the Romero Collection. The excerpt on this page is presented unedited.
3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fisheries and Fishery Resources of the Caribbean Area: A Report of the Caribbean Fishery Mission of 1942. Fishery leaflet 259. Washington, D.C.: Fish and Wildlife Service, 1947. Also available in box 429 of the Romero Collection. See page 83: "Porpoise meat is used as bait" to catch sharks.
4. Cordoba, Jose de. "Venezuela Is Trying To Hook a Big Fish Out to Save Dolphins -- Did Fugitive Biologist Hope To Stop a Slaughter or Aid The U.S. Tuna Industry?" Wall Street Journal, March 15, 1995. Online access is restricted to SIUE users. Also available in box 654 of the Romero Collection.