Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Groups sue over fishing
longline for swordfish

The lawsuit alleges that the
method endangers sea turtles

The reopening of longline swordfish fishing by Hawaii-based boats could cause the extinction of the endangered leatherback sea turtle and is killing thousands of protected albatrosses annually, three environmental groups charge in a lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.

The National Marine Fisheries Service violated federal law by reopening swordfish fishing without first preparing an environmental impact statement, the groups said in the lawsuit.

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Ka Iwa Kua Lele and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Judge David Ezra shut down swordfish fishing by Hawaii-based boats in a separate case four years ago. In that case, Ezra found the National Marine Fisheries Service similarly had not prepared an environmental impact statement.

In April the National Marine Fisheries Service reopened swordfish fishing, but required longliners to use different combinations of hook and bait in hopes of reducing sea turtle deaths.

At the same time, the National Marines Fisheries Service authorized the swordfish industry to capture 16 leatherback turtles and 17 loggerhead turtles.

Earthjustice said thousands of black-footed and Laysan albatrosses were killed every year when snagged while diving on baited longline hooks.

Under a federal court order, all swordfish boats are required to carry a federal inspector. The fishing takes place 50 miles or more offshore.

The leatherback turtle is the world's largest reptile and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs, Earthjustice said. It nests primarily in Costa Rica and Mexico. Its numbers are so depleted that some biologists have estimated it will become extinct in about 15 years, largely as a result of being killed by fishermen, Earthjustice said.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said a request will be made later this week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the black-footed albatross, which nests almost exclusively in the Hawaiian Islands, an endangered species.

The lawsuit claims the National Marine Fisheries Service is violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Wende Goo said the agency had just received the lawsuit. "We're studying it," she said.



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