For Immediate Release

Honolulu, Hawaii (March 5, 2015) – The Hawaii-based pelagic longline fishery targeting swordfish is treading in dangerous water by catching sea turtles (including endangered Leatherback sea turtles) according to a newly released report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Thirty-five sea turtles, including 19 critically endangered Leatherback sea turtles were injured by the fishery in 2014.

“Swordfish may seem expensive at $20 a pound, but the real price is much higher and includes an unacceptable level of death and injury to endangered species,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.Org), which has worked for over a decade to reduce wildlife deaths in this and other fisheries.

Data shows that in 2014 the irresponsible fishery killed or injured 16 marine mammals, including 9 dolphins, one false killer whale, one elephant seal, and one sea lion. Two Laysan Albatrosses and 16 Black-footed Albatrosses were also killed, and 49 shearwater birds were injured, according to the NMFS report. These high numbers of marine deaths were reported despite restrictions placed on the fishery in attempt to reduce the impact on these protected species.

“This report shows that the Hawaii Longline Fishery is a slaughterhouse for sea turtles, dolphins and sea birds,” said Doug Karpa, legal program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Reform is needed immediately.”

Hawaii’s swordfish longline fishery is required to place observers on 100 percent of vessels, so the numbers reported here are not estimates, but known interaction with these protected marine species.

Through a series of actions including lawsuits and settlements beginning in 1999, Turtle Island Restoration Network (along with local Hawaiian organizations and other national environmental groups) have watched-dogged the Hawaiian longline tuna and swordfish fisheries resulting in regulations to limit the collateral damage to sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds harmed by this fishery. Turtle Island and partners worked to implement temporary closures of the fisheries, caps on number of turtles killed or injured, yearly time-area closures, and modifications of fishing gear. 

 “If the fishery can not do a better job of reducing harm to sea turtles and whales, we will push for new limitations on fishing effort,” Steiner said.

Read National Marine Fisheries Report here.