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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, October 31, 2002

Judge asked to halt turtle research project

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

A local environmental organization is asking a federal judge to stop a research project aimed at finding ways to keep turtles from being caught and killed by longline fishing boats from Hawai'i.

In hearings before Judge Alan Kay on Tuesday and yesterday, Paul Achitoff argued on behalf of the Ocean Conservancy of Hawai'i that the testing program to protect turtles might actually lead to the demise of leatherback and loggerhead turtles in the Pacific.

The numbers of some turtle species have dwindled to the point that capturing even a few of them — albeit unintentionally while testing methods designed to reduce the number of turtles caught — could imperil their existence, he said.

Lawyers for the National Marine Fisheries Service and an association of longline operators said that during the first phase of the testing program in the spring, only three turtles were caught.

The second phase, scheduled after Dec. 1, would involve between three and seven longline boats and a limited number "sets," the term used for a miles-long string of baited fish hooks placed into the water.

Achitoff told the judge the project should not proceed because it puts sea creatures protected by the Endangered Species Act at risk.

The lawyers for the Fisheries Service and longliners contend that foreign, fishing boats work the same waters as the Hawai'i boats without restriction and are likely to catch more turtles than will be caught by the boats involved in the test program.

Federal Judge David Ezra two years ago essentially outlawed longline fishing for swordfish in the Western Pacific but allowed them to continue to fish for ahi.