In 2001, a court found that the HI-based swordfish longline fishery violated federal law and closed the fishery. In 2004, NMFS reopened the fishery with detailed regulations requiring special gear and limiting the amount of fishing that could take place each year. The US government limited the maximum number of longline sets that could be fished at 2,120 sets/yr. They concluded that additional fishing would jepoardize the Pacific leatherback and Loggerhead turtle.
This past Monday, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC) recommended that NMFS eliminate the limits on the number of longline sets/year. If approved, WESPAC’s decision would rollback this critical regulation protecting sea turtles from shallow set longlines–a method 10x more likely than deep set longlines to capture and kill Pacific leatherbacks and loggerheads.
Thus, it appears that the Hawaii-based longline fishery is gearing up for a dramatic increase in swordfish fishing, with deadly consequences for imperiled sea turtles, whales, seals, and seabirds. At a time when WESPAC should be looking for ways to further decrease the impacts of longlining on ever shrinking populations of turtles, they are posed to allow even more fishing and by-catch of sea turtles. WESPAC and NMFS will be hearing from us and our members in the next couple months as we work to stop this myopic plan.