HONOLULU (CN) – Longline swordfishers say the federal government turned what was supposed to be a temporary sea turtle conservation agreement into a permanent regulation. The Hawaii Longline Association says the Secretary of Commerce violated due process and did not use good science.
The association represents 200 crewmembers of the shallow-set swordfish fishery.
Longlining involves setting hooks along long stretches of line to snare dispersed fish populations. The indiscriminate nature of longlines allows them to hook many nontarget species, including threatened and endangered sea turtles.
Despite measures implemented in 2004 to protect sea turtles in Hawaii waters, including the use of special hooks and observers, some sea turtles still get snared on baited hooks in longlines and drown.
The Hawaii longliners challenge a March 2011 final rule they say developed out of a 2010 agreement with environmentalists that reduced the number of sea turtles longliners may hook accidentally.
The association claims that a 2008 process under the Endangered Species Act stated that the accidental death of 46 loggerhead and 16 leatherback sea turtles would be statistically insignificant.
But environmentalists attempting to “litigate Hawaii-based longline fisheries out of existence” forged an agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce the acceptable accidental take of loggerheads from 46 to 16.
Although the agreement on sea turtle take was supposed to be “for a limited duration,” the fisheries service adopted the numbers in its final rule without a new environmental analysis.
The fishers, represented by Lyons, Brandt, Cook & Hiramatsu, ask the court to enjoin the rule.
Leatherback sea turtles have been listed as endangered since 1970. The Turtle Island Restoration Network, which spearheaded the Hawaii agreement, says the Pacific population of leatherbacks is in imminent danger of extinction.
Loggerheads are the most plentiful sea turtles in the United States. The species has been listed as threatened since 1970.