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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Fishermen Say Feds Protect Species Illegally

HONOLULU (CN) - The Hawaii Longline Association claims the federal government is trying to "litigate Hawaii-based commercial longline fisheries out of existence." The commercial fishermen claim the National Marine Fisheries Service exceeded its authority and "entered into a private agreement with certain national advocacy groups," by "vacating incidental take authorizations" for "certain ESA [Endangered Species Act]-listed species."

Longline fishermen catch large fish, such as tuna and swordfish, with lines that can be miles long, baited with as many as 2,500 hooks. Protected sea turtles and other nontarget species can be caught in the lines and drowned. The plaintiffs, who are "shallow-set" fishermen, say their main lines are generally no more than 100 kilometers (61) long, baited with 700 to 1,000 hooks.

The fishermen say the NMFS and Department of Commerce are trying to "procure an order vacating incidental take authorizations and limits to the shallow-set fishery regarding certain ESA-listed species, and certain 'no jeopardy' conclusions regarding these same ESA-listed species, contrary to applicable provisions of the APA, the ESA, the MSA, and NEPA." (The Administrative Procedures Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Magnuson-Steven Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.)

The fishermen particularly object to protections to loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.

They say the feds are trying to make new regulations without due process, and call it part of a "10-year campaign," that violates environmental laws, the public and expert review process and the 16-member Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council's efforts to protect the species.

The fishermen seek retention of Pelagics Fishery Management Plan Amendment 18, which removed a limit on the number of fishing gear deployments and declared incidental takes of sea turtles "statistically insignificant." They claim Amendment 18 was established through proper procedure, but the NMFS, supposedly through its "private agreement with certain national advocacy groups" seeks to vacate it.

According to the federal complaint, the original Amendment 18 authorized the "incidental take," or killing, of 46 loggerhead and 16 leatherback sea turtles a year, which the fishermen call "statistically indistinguishable from zero."

The fishermen claim, "Shallow-set fishery is likely the most highly regulated and observed commercial fishery in the world," and say unregulated foreign fisheries compete with Hawaii-based ones in these international waters.

They seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They are by George Brandt and Steven Otaguro.

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