In response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Earthjustice, the federal agency in charge of protecting ocean resources (National Marine Fisheries Service) provided never before publicly released photos showing the devastating toll that the Hawai’i-based longline fishing fleet inflicts on the Hawai’i population of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens).
For nearly a decade, the Fisheries Service has known the Hawai’i longline fishery hooks, entangles and drowns false killer whales, killing and seriously injuring these rare marine mammals at unsustainable rates.
Seeking an end to the continuing slaughter of false killer whales in the waters of Hawai’i, Earthjustice, representing a coalition of conservation groups, filed suit in federal court against the Fisheries Service on March 17, 2009, challenging the agency’s failure to devise and implement a plan to protect the whales from the Hawai’i-based longline fishery. The coalition includes Hui Malama i Kohola, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Read the lawsuit (PDF)
On August 10, 2004, under pressure from an earlier Earthjustice lawsuit representing the same three conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service re-classified the Hawai’i-based longline fishery as "Category I" due to its excessive incidental take of Hawai’i’s false killer whales. This official reclassification triggered the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s requirement promptly to establish 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." Instead, for more than four years, the Fisheries Service has done nothing, claiming inadequate funding, while refusing to ask Congress for additional money.
A December 2008 Government Accountability Office study found that "the false killer whale is the only marine mammal for which incidental take by commercial fisheries is above its maximum removal level that is not covered by a take reduction team."
The National Marine Fisheries Service’s longstanding refusal to establish a take (killing) reduction team for Hawai’i’s false killer whales violates Congress’s command that commercial fisheries "reduce incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate." The GAO report found "it is important that NMFS adhere to the deadlines in the MMPA, as delays in establishing teams and developing and finalizing take reduction plans could result in continued harm to already dwindling marine mammal populations."