Longline fishing vessels are responsible for capturing, harming, injuring and killing sea turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins, seabirds and other protected species. Turtle Island Restoration Network constantly monitors this destructive fishery to ensure innocent marine animals are protected from its deadly impacts.

Longlines are fishing lines that stretch up to 60 miles with thousands of hooks intended to catch swordfish and tuna. But for every single targeted swordfish, dozens more marine species are captured, injured, or killed as “bycatch.”

Sea turtles become hooked while trying to take longline bait or become entangled while swimming through the walls of nearly invisible lines and hooks, drowning the turtles or leaving them fatally injured. Seabirds such as Laysan and black-footed albatrosses also dive for the bait and become hooked. Current efforts to transition to less harmful fishing methods and using more selective gear instead of longlines has proven to reduce incidental killing and improve fishing efficiency. Turtle Island Restoration Network closely monitors longline fisheries and litigates when necessary to ensure protected species are not also injured in the pursuit of swordfish and tuna.

Pelagic longlines (longlines set near the surface) have been banned off the West Coast of the United States for more than four decades. Researchers estimate that 200,000 loggerhead and 50,000 leatherback sea turtles were caught worldwide by pelagic longline fishing gear in 2000 alone. The last time pelagic longlines were tested off California in 2011, more than 40 sharks were caught for every swordfish and over three quarters of the fish caught were unmarketable species. Despite being banned in California for decades, the federal government has approved experimental vessels to actively operate offshore today—and with planned expansion. Additionally, the Hawai’i longline fleet catches millions of non-target sharks and other fish. In one year alone, the Hawai’i longline fishery set 45.4 million baited hooks to target swordfish and tuna but also captured, killed and/or injured at least 11 species of whales and dolphins, several species of protected seabirds, and four species of threatened and endangered sea turtles. The United States government categorizes the Hawai’i longline fishery as a “Category One” fishery, which it defines as having “frequent incidental mortality or serious injury of marine mammals.” Victims of this fishery include humpback, sperm and false killer whales, as well as bottlenose, spinner and common dolphins. In 2012, the Hawai’i longline fleet caught 64,481 sharks, but kept only 2% of them—the remaining bycatch was thrown back in the ocean, injured or dead.

Tuna, marlin, shark, sailfish, and swordfish commercially caught in Hawai’i are likely caught by foreign fisherfolk facing squalid living and working conditions without basic labor protections or the ability to seek legal recourse. In some instances, workers are enduring slavery enabled by the U.S. government via a loophole for foreign fisherfolk targeting the aforementioned species to be exempted from basic labor protections. In 2016, an in-depth investigation by the Associated Press concluded that rampant conditions existed in the Hawaii commercial longline fishing fleet, likened to human trafficking, slavery and human rights abuses. Legislators vowed reform. In 2018, Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a case for this issue with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Last year, Georgetown University’s Human Rights Institute released an extensive and gripping report on the subject—and lack of meaningful change—aptly named “The Price of Paradise: Vulnerabilities to Forced Labor in the Hawaiian Longline Fishing Industry.”

Last Journey for

the Leatherback?

The incredible life of the leatherbacks – the largest species of sea turtle — which can dive as deep as the whales and migrate across entire ocean basins.

Our Impact

Closing down 250,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean to the Hawai’i longline swordfish fishery

Prohibits longline fishing between August 15 and November 15 along California and Oregon, reducing the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001 to almost zero between 2001 and 2012.

Establishing the first federal “hard caps” for incidental sea turtle capture for longline vessels

Limits the amount of sea turtles that can be captured in longline fisheries. The Hawaii longline fishery must close for season after cap is reached.

Challenging exempt longline fishing permits

In response to a lawsuit we filed, blocks the Trump administration for authorizing a new longline fishery in the Pacific Ocean. The authorization would have operated off California despite a federal ban on longline gear created in 2004 to protect leatherbacks.

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