Lawsuit Claims Costco’s Canned Tuna Is Not “Dolphin Safe”


After facing allegations of selling worm-infested fish, violating livestock welfare laws, and spying on its online customers, Costco is back in court. This time, the issue is canned tuna.

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Costco’s request to dismiss a class-action lawsuit accusing the warehouse club of false advertising, according to Reuters.

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The case specifically involves Costco’s Kirkland Signature White Albacore In Water, a product labeled “dolphin safe,” complete with illustrations of the finned sea creatures on its packaging—a common form of marketing in today’s canned tuna business. A pack of eight 7-ounce cans regularly sells for about $15 at the warehouse club.

The lawsuit claims that Costco’s labeling “deceives millions of consumers” because “the grim reality is that the [p]roducts are sourced using fishing methods that seriously injure and kill thousands of dolphins and other marine life each year.”

The suit notes that Costco struck a deal with Bumble Bee Foods in 2002 to supply the tuna for its Kirkland brand products, and that Bumble Bee openly admits on its website to using longline fishing practices, a method that commonly ensnares other marine life, including dolphins. Bumble Bee and other popular canned tuna brands, including Chicken of the Sea and StarKist, previously faced similar lawsuits over “dolphin safe” claims on their product labels.

Costco’s lawyers argued in court that the retailer makes no specific promises about its fishing practices beyond the “dolphin safe” logo, and that the lawsuit merely speculates on these methods.

However, U.S. District Judge William Orrick deemed the allegations plausible enough to proceed, noting that reasonable consumers would infer from Costco’s logo that the company’s sourcing methods support “protection of and respect for” marine life.

The judge added that the truth behind these claims is important because consumers “overwhelmingly” prefer dolphin safe-labeled tuna products when given the choice.

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