Federal Fisheries Agency Sued for Failure to Protect Hawai`i's False Killer Whales from Longliners

Fishery needs more protective status


David Henkin, Earthjustice (808) 599-2436


William Aila, Hui Malama i Kohola (808) 851-1839


Brendan Cummings, CBD (909) 659-6053


Todd Steiner, TIRN (415) 488-0370

A coalition of fishermen, cultural practitioners and environmentalists sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) in federal court today for its failure to protect the Hawai’i population of false killer whales from the Hawai’i-based longline fishing fleet. NMFS has estimated the population of false killer whales in the waters around Hawai’i at 83 whales, and recent studies indicate that this population may be genetically distinct. The miles of lines used by the Hawai’i-based longline fleet hook and entangle false killer whales, which can result in serious injury or death through drowning.

(Photos available for Publication – credit Wild Dolphin Foundation)

False Killer Whale Swimming .9MB

False Killer Whale Still .9MB

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Hawai’i community group Hui Malama i Kohola, the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network. The suit’s goal is 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. This change would trigger the creation and implementation of plans to reduce killing and wounding by the Hawai’i longline fleet of false killer whales and other marine mammals, including the Hawaiian monk seal, humpback whale, sperm whale, blue whale and fin whale.

“For years, NMFS has illegally ignored its own data, which show that the Hawai’i-based longline fleet is injuring and killing false killer whales at nearly ten times the level the population can sustain,” said David Henkin an attorney for Earthjustice. “Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NMFS should have automatically classified the Hawai’i longline fleet as a Category I fishery and immediately begun working on plans to reduce harm to false killer whales and other marine mammals. Hawai’i’s marine mammals are paying with their lives for NMFS’s refusal to comply with the law.”

Longline fishing gear is an indiscriminate form of industrial fishing noted for its “bycatch” problems. Observers have confirmed that the rigs, often miles long with thousands of hooks, kill and injure false killer whales, humpback whales, dolphins, other marine mammals, and a variety of sea turtles and sea birds.

Todd Steiner, Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network said, “Industrial longline fisheries are wiping out the ocean’s wildlife species; Hawai’i’s false killer whales are only the latest identified victims. This non-selective fishing gear forms a curtain of death with its millions of baited hooks set each year driving whales, turtles and seabirds to the brink of extinction.”

“Longline fishing for swordfish and tuna in Hawai’i’s biologically diverse waters is akin to hunting deer by placing land mines in the forest,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. “You may catch your deer, but you invariably kill many of the neighboring species as well.”

The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires NMFS to prepare reports on each marine mammal stock in United States waters. Each of those reports must determine “the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from the marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.”

The most recent stock assessment report for Hawai’i false killer whales determined that human activities may seriously injure or kill no more than 0.8 false killer whales each year, on average. The report then found that the Hawai’i-based longline fishery is responsible for killing or seriously injuring an average of seven false killer whales annually. These data required NMFS to classify the fishery as Category I and to begin preparing take reduction plans for the false killer whale and other imperiled marine mammal species in Hawaiian waters. Ignoring its legal duty, NMFS classified the Hawai’i longline fishery as a Category III fishery on July 15, 2003.

“In refusing to designate the Hawai’i longline fishery as a Catagory I fishery, NMFS has failed to fulfill its kuleana (responsibility) and ignored its mission, resulting in additional needless deaths of false killer whales in Hawaiian waters,” said William Aila of Hui Malama i Kohola.

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