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Hawaii’s Tuna Fishery Taking Deadly Toll on Whales, Sea Turtles and Seabirds

An estimated 20 endangered sea turtles, 35 protected whales and dolphins, and 165 Black-footed and Laysan albatross were injured or killed by Hawaii-based tuna fishing boats in just the first three months of 2013. This is according to recently published federal fishery observer reports from the Pacific Islands Region of National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The high numbers of dolphins, whales and turtles killed or injured so early in the year is a clear sign that these longline fisheries are still a big problem for endangered species,” said Teri Shore, Program Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org). “We need to roll back accidental capture of disappearing marine animals, not allow it to escalate.”

This year new measures were imposed on the tuna fishery beginning in February to halt the hooking of false killer whales, whose numbers have declined to about 2,000 individuals in the Hawaiian Islands. Despite these efforts, numbers are on a frightening upwards trend.

First quarter observer reports revealed that between January and March the Hawaii deepset longline tuna fishery hooked the highest number of protected marine animals compared to any of the last first-quarter periods in 10 years including:
⎯    20 critically endangered leatherbackloggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles
⎯    15 false killer whales (a dolphin species) – one more could trigger a closure. Download a fact sheet here.
⎯    5 short-finned pilot whales
⎯    5 rare pygmy killer whales (a dolphin species) – at limit of acceptable harm under MMPA (5.2 Potential Biological Removal Level).
⎯    165 Black-footed and Laysan albatross – accounting for 99 percent of seabird hookings

If these high levels of incidental capture continue, the longline fishery could exceed allowable incidental take levels under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. This could mean mandatory fishery closures and additional federal protections or actions.

The hooking and serious injury or death of even a single additional false killer whale from the endangered Hawaiian “insular” population would trigger a closure of fishing areas south of the Hawaiian Islands.

“Every bite of tuna sushi comes with a side of dead dolphins and sea turtles, and the true cost of Hawaii longline tuna is the cruel deaths of hundreds of dolphins, whales, sea turtles and seabirds,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network(SeaTurtles.org). “The government’s attempt to reduce the carnage through various restrictions on fishers is obviously not working and needs to be tightened up, not weakened.”
Read more about protected species issues and the Hawaii longline fisheries here.