The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2003 that the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency charged with managing the nation's fisheries, violated the Endangered Species Act by authorizing longline fishing off California without analyzing the fishery's impacts on endangered sea turtles and seabirds. The Ninth Circuit reversed a previous decision by a district court judge that no such analysis was required.
Approximately three dozen longline vessels relocated from Hawaii to southern California in November 1999, when the longline fishery was shut down by litigation, in order to avoid the new injunctions. The fleet fishes primarily for 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 the critically endangered leatherback turtle, as well as loggerhead, olive ridley, and green sea turtles. Each year the longliners also entangle numerous marine mammals, hundreds of seabirds such as albatross, and thousands of sharks.
Scientific data shows that the leatherback sea turtle is in imminent danger of extinction in the Pacific. A June 2000 paper in Nature predicted the species will go extinct in 5-10 years without reductions in adult mortality from fishing activities. Leatherbacks nest in Mexico and Costa Rica in the eastern Pacific, and, in the western Pacific, in Malaysia and Irian Jaya.