Wednesday, May 23, 2001

New lawsuit entangles
fishermen even more

By Mary Adamski

A federal lawsuit charges that the National Marine Fisheries Service is violating the Endangered Species Act because, despite restrictions on longline fishermen, it still allows them to kill threatened species of sea turtles.

The Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Marine Conservation asked the U.S. District Court to review the federal agency's "biological opinion" evaluating the tuna fishery's impact on endangered species.

The suit filed yesterday by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund said the agency acknowledged that longline fishing increases the risk of extinction of leatherback and green sea turtles but has not come up with conservation plans for the species.

In a separate action, the 15-member Scientific and Statistical Committee of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council voted last week to urge the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement existing turtle protection plans.

The suit was the latest chapter in court action surrounding the swordfish and tuna fishing industry in Hawaiian waters. The two mainland-based conservation and research organizations filed suit earlier, which resulted in an April decision by U.S. District Judge David Ezra banning most longline fishing. Ezra required that observers join the tuna fleet pending preparation of an environmental impact statement.

The Hawaii Longline Association filed suit last month against the National Marine Fisheries Service arguing that the turtles are not being jeopardized.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Marine Fisheries Service to establish that the fishery is "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of threatened or endangered species.

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