(CN) - New federal rules give longline sword fishermen in Hawaii free reign to kill loggerhead sea turtles, whales and albatross with baited hooks strewn over miles of open sea, three environmental groups claim in Honolulu Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff the Turtle Island Restoration Network says the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored its own scientists when it issued new regulations allowing the accidental capture of 46 loggerhead turtles per year - up from 17 - and failed to require different fishing methods that have been shown to mitigate the deaths.
"The sea turtles are swimming toward extinction, yet this plan seems intent on continuing the same old fishery policies, hastening their demise," Teri Shore, program director for Turtle Island, said in a statement.
Co-plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity and Kahea: The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, asked the court to stop the NMFS from implementing the new rules, which violate the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The groups say the new rules conflict with the NMFS' own assessment that the loggerhead sea turtle is in danger of extinction.
In a report released 4 months ago, the agency reported that the "incidental capture in longline fisheries is a primary threat to the species' continued existence."
The rules eliminate all restrictions on longline swordfish fishing, during which nearly invisible fishing lines are stretched out for up to 60 miles, baited and hooked and suspended in the water with floats.
Turtles and whales become entangled in the lines after trying to steal the bait. Sea birds, especially the threatened albatross, dive for the bait and often become hooked and drown, the groups say.
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest of all the sea turtles, growing up to 7 feet long and weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They are the only sea turtles that do not have a hard shell. They live in the open ocean, feeding on jellyfish, swimming up to 20 miles per hour and diving deeper than 3,000 feet.
The groups sued the NMFS, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.
They are represented by Paul Achitoff and Isaac Moriwake with EarthJustice.
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