A Costco shopper claims that the members-only retailer misled consumers with its “dolphin-safe” label on Kirkland tuna, which is caught using "100% Monofilament Leaders & Circle Hooks,” a fishing practice that can injure and kill dolphins.
The class-action lawsuit’s plaintiff, Melinda Wright, adds that she would have paid less or completely avoided the eight cans of Kirkland Signature White Albacore Tuna had she known that Costco’s dolphin-safe label was misleading.
“Costco’s false advertising scheme deceives millions of consumers into believing the Products are ‘DOLPHIN SAFE,’ meaning they are manufactured using fishing methods that neither kill nor harm dolphins,” the lawsuit reads. “However, the grim reality is that the Products are sourced using fishing methods that seriously injure and kill thousands of dolphins and other marine life each year.”
Screenshots of Costco’s website and photos of the can included in court documents show that the wholesaler repeatedly labeled its canned tuna as “dolphin safe” both on and offline. The retailer also had a section on its website explaining how Kirkland’s canned tuna suppliers are part of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).
While Costco sought the case’s dismissal, Reuters reports that U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco said that the plaintiffs' allegations were plausible and that a reasonable consumer would associate the product’s dolphin-safe logo and statements about fishing with "protection of and respect for" marine life.
In 2011, the wholesaler committed to ISSF guidelines for its tuna products and worked with the World Wildlife Fund to improve shrimp aquaculture conditions after it faced criticism from organizations like Greenpeace.
On Greenpeace’s Grocery Store Scorecard, which evaluates retailers based on their seafood sustainability policies, Costco scores 53%, below competitors such as Sam’s Club, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and Whole Foods.
Cheapism has reached out to Costco and will update this article if and when we hear back.