Longliners seek 'fair' turtle rules
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer
The Hawai'i Longline Association, saying it has been unfairly treated over its hooking of threatened and endangered sea turtles, has asked that the federal government apply the same standards to state and recreational fishing.
Advertiser library photo Aug. 15, 1999
The Hawai'i Longline Association says the green sea turtle is more likely to be in contact with recreational fishers.
Advertiser library photo Aug. 15, 1999
With green sea turtles, the interactions with recreational fishers are considerably higher than those with the longline industry, said Seattle attorney James Lynch, who filed the association's formal notice that it intends to file suit under the federal Endangered Species Act. With other turtle species, particularly leatherbacks, which remain in the deep ocean, nearshore interactions are almost nonexistent.
Jim Cook, a member of the longline association, owner of Pacific Ocean Producers and a former chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, said the association doesn't intend to shut down nearshore fishing but wants fairness.
"It's a gentle prodding to bring about change. There isn't an environmental disaster going on here, but there isn't one on the high seas, either," Cook said.
William Devick, head of the state Division of Aquatic Resources, conceded that under the language of the Endangered Species Act, the state may have to get a permit to allow recreational fishing that may incidentally impact turtles.
He said the state is discussing with the National Marine Fisheries Service what process would be required for the state to get a permit.
Tips on handling turtle hookings
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, in its summer 2001 publication Pacific Islands Fishery News, makes these recommendations:
Don't cast into areas where turtles are repeatedly surfacing to breathe, because they may be feeding.
When a turtle is hooked, cut the line as close to the hook as possible, remove any other line that may entangle the turtle, and don't remove the hook unless it can be done without increasing the injury.
For turtles with deep hooks or line cutting into their bodies, veterinarian treatment is necessary. Keep the turtle in the shade and call the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Turtle Research Program at 983-5730.
Saltwater recreational fishing in Hawai'i does not now require a license.
Hawai'i's longline fishery for swordfish has been closed and the tuna longline fishery limited because of other legal action brought by environmental organizations to protect sea turtles.
The Hawai'i Longline Association already has filed suit against the fisheries service, claiming the existing regulations are too restrictive and that the fishery does not threaten the survival of turtle species.
Fisherman Bob Duerr, a Big Island-based outdoors writer who runs the film production firm Kappa Productions, said the association's latest action should be a wake-up call to those engaged in recreational fishing that they need to organize.
"The users need to get more educated to what's going on out there. There is no statewide group and the bottom line is that fishermen need to be involved. They're stakeholders," Duerr said.
It is clear that certain kinds of fishing can target turtles.
"In a lot of places today, the chances of an ulua fisherman hooking a turtle are better than hooking an ulua," Cook said.
But Devick argued the state is already doing a lot to protect the turtles. It has banned the catching of turtles, limited the time a gill net can be left in the water without being inspected, established marine life conservation districts where no fishing or limited fishing is allowed, and conducted extensive public education programs.
Still, turtle interactions with fishing gear are on the rise. The National Marine Fisheries Service Honolulu Laboratory's Marine Turtle Research Program found that of 274 turtles found stranded in 2000, 51 had some evidence of having been hooked, snagged or netted.
It is not clear how much of that increase is because of more fishing or perhaps more green turtles in Hawaiian waters.