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Protecting Endangered Sea Turtles, Rare Albatross from the Longline Swordfish Fishery

Case Overview

Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging a new rule by the National Marine Fisheries Service that doubles the number of endangered sea turtles allowed to be entangled and killed by Hawaiʻi’s longline swordfish fishery.

Leatherback sea turtle, hooked on a longline. (NOAA)

The suit, brought under the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental laws, was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network. It aims to stop the Fisheries Service from allowing the fishery to cause the deaths of far too many endangered loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, as well as migratory seabirds.

The new federal rule, opposed by conservation groups, rolled back the significant protections that had been gained through a 2011 settlement between the same parties that capped the number of sea turtles that could be caught by the fishery to 17 endangered loggerheads and 16 critically endangered leatherbacks. The new rule allows the fishery to kill 34 loggerheads and 26 leatherbacks. Longline fishing is one of the biggest threats to the survival of these sea turtles, which get hooked on the fishing gear and drown.

A Laysan albatross flies gracefully overhead. (USGS)

Swordfish longline vessels trail up to 60 miles of fishing line suspended in the water with floats, with as many as 1,000 baited hooks deployed at regular intervals. Sea turtles become hooked while trying to take bait or become entangled while swimming through the nearly invisible lines—encounters that can drown the turtles or leave them with serious injuries.

Seabirds also dive for the bait and become hooked; worldwide, longline fishing has caused serious declines in most albatross populations. Today’s lawsuit therefore also challenges a permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service that allows the fishery to catch Laysan and black-footed albatrosses without requiring the mitigation method the Service has acknowledged could save these increasingly rare birds.

Case Updates

November 19, 2012 | In the News: San Francisco Chronicle

Lawsuit Filed Over Endangered Sea Turtles

In Hawaiʻi the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act has embraced fishing regulations that allow increased incidental take of endangered loggerheads and leatherbacks from 17 and 16 to an alarming 34 and 26.