In response to the fatal hooking of a false killer whale in February, the National Marine Fisheries Service has warned that a second fatal hooking would trigger the shutdown of more than 100,000 square nautical miles of fishing water south of the Hawaiian Islands for the remainder of 2013. This is a condition of regulations established at the beginning of the year that also require the use of weaker hooks and thicker lines, which are less likely to endanger these animals, which are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
For years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has illegally ignored its own data, which show the Hawaiʻi-based longline fleet currently is injuring and killing false killer whales at over twice the level the population can sustain.
In 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally re-classified the Hawaiʻi-based longline fishery as "Category I"—a designation for fisheries that annually kill and seriously harm marine mammals at unstainable rates—due to its excessive incidental take of Hawaiʻi's false killer whales. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this recategorization should have triggered the prompt establishment of a take reduction team to devise a plan to bring the fishery's incidental take "to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate." NMFS has failed to do so, claiming inadequate funding. At the same time, NMFS has never applied the congressionally-mandated factors to allocate resources where insufficient funding is available for all required take reduction actions.
Hawaiʻi's marine mammals are paying with their lives for NMFS's refusal to comply with the law. Earthjustice is suing NMFS to compel it to heed Congress's command to protect Hawaiʻi's false killer whales from needless death and injury.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has settled a lawsuit filed by environmental groups over accidental bycatch of the false killer whales when Hawaiian fishermen are fishing for tuna and swordfish. The agency has promised to set rules to prevent the deadly effects of long-line fishing on the rare dolphin species being killed at three times the sustainable rate.
The federal agency charged with protecting marine mammals settled a court case by pledging to finalize and implement protections for false killer whales by November 30, 2012. False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens, which are actually large dolphins) have suffered unsustainable levels of death and serious injury in the Hawaiʻi-based longline fisheries.