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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Longline fishing industry faces stricter regulations

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's longline fishing industry may face increased regulation after the National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday formally reclassified the fishery to reflect its toll on false killer whales.

State waters had just reopened to swordfish longline fishing this past spring after a three-year prohibition while new rules were developed to protect endangered sea turtles. Those guidelines govern everything from equipment to fishing limitations and allowed the fleet to renew fishing after a costly hiatus.

Yesterday, the fisheries service raised the fleet's category from level 3 to level 1, which means the service, among other things, must convene a committee to draft a plan aimed at reducing the number of incidental killings of the false killer whales.

"It's about time," said David Henkin, attorney with Earthjustice, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of cultural and environmental groups in November to force the protections for the false killer whale that come with reclassification.

Jim Cook, co-owner of the fishery supply firm Pacific Ocean Producers and legal liaison to the Hawai'i Longline Association, said he couldn't guess what the long-term implications of the reclassification will be on the fishing fleet.

But he questioned the data upon which the decision is based, suggesting that the population of false killer whales is likely much smaller than what's believed.

"The information to support this is scanty," he said.

Henkin said the National Marine Fishery Service's own observer program has documented that, each year, the Hawai'i longline fishery kills or seriously injures an average of more than four false killer whales — nearly four times the level of death and injury that the agency has determined the Hawai'i population can sustain.

As long as there's financing, the change in classification should lead to the creation and implementation of plans to reduce the killing and wounding of false killer whales and other marine mammals, Henkin said.

The fleet fishes primarily for tuna and swordfish, using monofilament lines up to 30 miles long and carrying thousands of hooks. In addition to the fish they target, these longlines are known to ensnare several species of sea turtles, as well as sea birds and non-target fish species such as sharks.

Prior legal actions have closed the Hawai'i swordfish longline fishery and restricted the tuna longline fishery because of its high takes of endangered sea turtles.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.