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Introduction to Environmental Policy

Session 14

Deconstructing Federalism: Case Study Seven -

The GATT Tuna Controversy



EVR 2861 


The assigned case study this session has to do with an international treaty - GATT (General Agreement of Tarrifs and Trade) - and econmic and environmental issues having to do with offshore tuna fishing. The case study discusses multi-lateral treaties and how they can contribute to a certain policy divergence between national and international priorities. In particular, the case is concerned with the degree of access of U.S. citizens to governmental policy processes that are international in scope and not immediately transparent to citizen analysis and participation. The assigned reading from Wirth (1996) involves two case studies. We will be looking at the first case study involving the tuna-dolphin report that was issued under the auspices of GATT. Accordingly the experience with these tuna-dolphin specific provisions has been that "there are significant disparities between applying the law in domestic US courts on the one hand and in the quasi-adjudicatory GATT dispute settlement pro- cess on the other" (Wirth, 1996, p. 5). Your task in this class session will be to understand the nature of those disparities and explain them in a brief narrative, as well as to take the constitutional checklist used in the previous two sessions and apply that checklist to the GATT/Tuna-Dolphin situation and summarize in a brief narrative what constitutional issues are involved and the nature of those issues.


Wirth, David A. (1996) "Public Participation and International Process: Environmental Case Studies at the National and International Levels," Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy. Vol. 7, p. 6f.

Pew Charitable Trust (2012) "Global Tuna Fishing," (June 21), Research and Analysis Fact Sheet.

Video: Pacific Tuna on the Line; Sustainable Tuna Fishing; Tuna Cowboys; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Sustainability at Risk; Depleting Madagascar's Tuna: Illegal Fishing.


  1. Descirbe the disparities between applying international law in the U.S. Courts. Please specify and discuss those issues.
  2. Describe the various ways tuna fishing is employed on the open seas and the unique environmental risks associated with each method.
  3. Consider the consider the case study on GATT and Tuna fishing outlined in the Wirth article (1996). Then go to the linked Word document entitled "Constitutional Checklist" and check the pertinent constitutioal elements involved in the U.S. environmental protection. After having done so, breifly discuss the pertinent constitutional challenges.