Each year, the Hawai'i-based longline fishing fleet kills or seriously injures an average of more than four false killer whales, nearly four times the rate of death and injury that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has determined the Hawai'i whale population can sustain. This "bycatch" stems from the fishery's use of miles-long rigs that indiscriminately entangle false killer whales and other scarce species, resulting in fatal injuries or death through drowning.
Earthjustice went to court to force NMFS to increase protection for the whale, as mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, by reclassifying the fishery from its current Category III status to Category I, a designation reserved for fisheries that annually kill or seriously injure marine mammals at unsustainable rates. On August 10, 2004, NMFS acknowledged the longline fishing fleet's devastating effect on the Hawai'i population of false killer whales and reclassified the fleet as Category I in the "List of Fisheries for 2004." This move triggers NMFS's legal duty to create and implement plans to reduce the killing and wounding of false killer whales and other marine mammals, especially by longline fisheries.