Lawsuit Fights New Rule Doubling Catch Limit for Overfished Bigeye Tuna

Lifting catch limits for Hawai‘i fishing fleet violates international agreement


Catherine Kilduff, Center for Biological Diversity, +1 (415) 644-8580


Marjorie Ziegler, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, +1 (808) 593-0255


Doug Karpa, Turtle Island Restoration Network, +1 (415) 860-6681


David Henkin, Earthjustice, +1 (808) 599-2436, ext. 6614

Conservation groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service today over a new rule allowing the Hawai‘i-based longline fleet to fish beyond limits set by international agreements meant to protect bigeye tuna and other imperiled marine species.

Read the complaint

The rule approved last month nearly doubles the agreed-upon, 3,763-metric-ton quota on bigeye fishing for all U.S.-flagged fishermen by creating separate quotas for “U.S. Pacific Territories” and then allowing 3,000 metric tons from those made-up quotas to be transferred to Hawai‘i-based fishermen who neither fish in territorial waters nor land their catch in the territories. The Fisheries Service claims the rules are simply “technical administrative changes,” but conservation groups argue the rules violate U.S. commitments under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention, which are vital to prevent overfishing.

“We’re not going to be able to solve the overfishing problem for bigeye unless all nations play by the rules,” said David Henkin, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. “The United States should be leading by example, not inventing a shell game to let the Hawai‘i-based longline fleet continue overfishing.”

Bigeye tuna is a highly valued sushi fish, especially in Japan. The latest stock assessment (2014) found that the fish is subject to overfishing throughout the Pacific. Currently at its lowest historical levels, bigeye tuna has been experiencing overfishing since the 1990s.

“The solution for saving bigeye tuna is not creating a new loophole so they can be fished even more,” said Catherine Kilduff with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to be smart about protecting this valuable resource, or soon it’ll be gone.”

Longline fishers use thousands of dangling hooks on lines stretching up to 60 nautical miles long and 1,150 feet deep. Hawai‘i’s deep-set longliners create a curtain of death across huge swaths of the ocean, indiscriminately catching large amounts of other marine life along with the targeted bigeye tuna, including humpback and sperm whales, false killer whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

Bigeye tuna, warm-blooded predators similar to endangered bluefin tuna, swim in deep waters around Hawai‘i and across the Pacific Ocean. From 1996 to 2008, the number of longline hooks set in Hawai‘i fishing grounds increased fourfold. On top of fishing stress, climate change threatens to warm ocean waters in a way that could kill off Pacific bigeye by century’s end.

Said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i : “The Fisheries Service should be enforcing our international agreements, not looking for ways to continue overfishing a species that needs help. We are not only very concerned about the bigeye tuna, but also about the sea turtles, sharks and seabirds that are indiscriminately killed on longlines.”

“The US government should be a leader, not a cheater when it comes to assuring recovery of overfished stocks of tuna, and preventing the deaths of endangered species such as sea turtles," said Doug Karpa, Turtle Island Restoration Network’s Legal Program Director.  “This violation of the substance and spirit of the law undermines American credibility to negotiate fair and effective conservation agreements.”

Earthjustice is representing the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity in this action.

A bigeye tuna.
A bigeye tuna. Highly valued for sushi, bigeye tuna has been increasingly in demand for the past decade. (Allen Shimada / NOAA NMFS OST)

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