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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bid to reinstate longline fishing ban rejected

By Alexandre Da Silva
Associated Press


National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov

Earthjustice: http://www.earthjustice.org

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An environmental group waited too long to seek a ban on fishermen who sometimes catch birds and turtles with swordfish lines, a federal appeals court said yesterday in dismissing the case.

Upholding a lower court's ruling, three judges with the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals found that EarthJustice missed a 30-day deadline to challenge the National Marine Fisheries Service for reopening commercial longlines fishing for swordfish from Hawai'i.

Longlines, which can extend for 60 miles and drag thousands of hooks, were banned in 2002 because endangered sea turtles were being caught.

But the fisheries service lifted the restriction in 2004 after tests showed "circle" hooks and new measures greatly reduced accidents. In the same year, longline fishing was banned off the U.S. West Coast.

EarthJustice attorney Paul Achitoff, who brought the suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of three environmental groups, said his clients likely would follow with a new complaint.

"They didn't address the merits of the claim at all," he said. "All they said was, 'Sorry, we can't hear this because it's too late.' "

Achitoff argues that even with the new hooks, thousands of black-footed albatross and Laysan albatross, as well as endangered sea turtles, continue to drown each year as a result of longliners.

Michael Tosatto, deputy regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said all nine leatherback turtles and 11 loggerheads injured by hooks last year were released back into the ocean, based on reports from private observers.

There are 112 fishing permits in Hawai'i. Observers travel on all swordfishing boats that operate out of Hawai'i and on 20 percent of tuna boats, Tosatto said.

Under new rules, if a total of 16 leatherback turtles or 17 loggerhead turtles are hooked, swordfishing will be closed for the remainder of the year.