Earthjustice filed suit today on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi to protect a host of threatened and endangered Pacific ocean species from continuing harm.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i, the suit points out that the Fisheries Service is allowing Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fishing operations to operate in the Western and Central Pacific without completing the legally-required evaluations of the fleets’ effects on threatened and endangered species, including green sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, sperm whales, scalloped hammerhead sharks and the Main Hawaiian Island insular false killer whale.
“The Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fisheries attempt to catch tuna and other far-ranging open ocean fish species by laying dozens of miles of baited hooks in the water. This indiscriminate fishing method catches, injures, and kills myriad species it is not meant to catch, including every species of sea turtle that roams the Pacific Ocean and numerous marine mammal and shark species,” the lawsuit says.
The federal Fisheries Service is charged with protecting endangered and threatened species. The agency recognized four years ago that these fisheries were catching, injuring, and killing far more sea turtles than the Service allows under its existing “incidental take limits” — limits on how many individuals of a threatened or endangered species the fishery can unintentionally catch or harm. But the Fisheries Service has yet to carry out its responsibilities required under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the species’ ability to survive and recover won’t be harmed. In the meantime, the Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery has caught, injured, or killed more olive ridley, green, and loggerhead sea turtles every year since 2017 than its “incidental take” limits allow.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go to court, but these long, hooked lines that aim to catch tuna are killing and maiming numerous creatures that make up our marine ecosystem,” said Mike Nakachi, a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, diver, and educator. “They’re emptying our ocean of animals we used to see in great numbers—sharks, turtles, whales—and robbing us of our cultural heritage.”
As part of its legal duty to protect marine creatures under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must complete formal biological opinions to determine fishing’s effects on threatened and endangered species. Under the law, the Service also has to identify measures needed to make sure species can survive and recover. The Fisheries Service originally stated it would complete those opinions in 2019 but has since bumped back the dates for completing them nearly 10 times.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the Fisheries Service to do the required evaluations to protect endangered and threatened species within 90 days.
“The Fisheries Service’s foot-dragging puts some of the most imperiled sea turtle species in the world at greater risk,” said Earthjustice attorney Ava Ibanez Amador. “We’re taking the agency to court now because these species can’t afford to wait.”
“We cannot rely on the Fisheries Service’s assurances any longer, we have waited for action for over four years to no avail. Marine life is of the utmost importance to our members and we are committed to protect it by ensuring the Fisheries Service follows the law,” said Jonnetta Peters, Executive Director of Conservation Council for Hawai‘i.