The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436
Marti Townsend, KAHEA, (808) 372-1314
Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 306
Teri Shore, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 663-8590 x 104; B-roll, still photos available from TIRN

Suit Filed to Stop Hawaii Longline Fishery From Tripling Sea Turtle Kill

Deadly Hooks Also Snag Whales, Seabirds, and Sharks


Today conservation groups Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, and KAHEA, all represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Honolulu challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service's issuance last week of a rule that removes all limits on effort in the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery and allows the fleet to catch nearly three times as many loggerhead sea turtles as was previously permitted. The new rule conflicts with the Fisheries Service's own assessment that the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle is in danger of extinction. That report, released only four months ago, noted that incidental capture in longline fisheries is a primary threat to the species' continued existence.

The new regulations increase allowable capture of threatened North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles from 17 per year to 46 per year. The rule continues to allow the capture of 16 endangered Pacific leatherbacks each year. The Hawaii longline swordfish fishery also catches, injures, and kills false killer whales, albatross, and blue sharks.

"The sea turtles are swimming toward extinction, yet this plan seems intent on continuing the same old fishery policies hastening their demise," said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. "We are disappointed, given Obama's new directives to protect the oceans." The president's Ocean Task Force recently held hearings around the country to develop a national ocean policy, including one in Hawaii last September.

Swordfish longline vessels trail up to 60 miles of fishing line suspended in the water with floats, with as many as 1,000 baited hooks deployed at regular intervals. Sea turtles become hooked while trying to take bait or entangled while swimming through the nearly invisible lines. These encounters can drown the turtles or leave them with serious wounds.

"The Fisheries Service has admitted that loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific face a significant risk of extinction unless we reduce the number of turtles killed by commercial fisheries," said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Unfortunately, rather than take action to improve protection of sea turtles, the agency is proposing measures that would actually increase the number of turtles killed."

"The law requires the Fisheries Service to minimize harm to sea turtles, and prohibits harm to albatross, both of which are being driven to extinction mainly because of irresponsible fishing practices," said Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice in Hawaii. "The agency is once again disregarding these laws in favor of maximizing swordfish catches and pandering to WESPAC's insatiable appetite for short-term profits."

"Allowing longline fishing for swordfish in the rich waters off Hawaii is like allowing landmines to be used for deer hunting in national parks," said Marti Townsend, program director of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. "You may catch what you are after, but the collateral damage to other wildlife is simply unacceptable."

The litigation is being supported by the Snorkel Bob Foundation of Hawaii, which sponsors results-oriented work that prevents incidental killing of marine species.