Friday, December 3, 1999

Longline fishers
decry court injunction

They urge completion of
an environmental report on
dangers facing sea turtles

By Pat Omandam


As owner of Pacific Fishing & Supply Inc., Minh Hoang Dang has spent the last seven years building his business, which supplies Hawaii's longline fishing industry.

But Dang fears he will have to shut down unless a federal court injunction is lifted within a few months. The injunction prevents the local longline fleet from fishing in a seasonal swordfish area in the Pacific.

"My employees are my brothers, cousins, other family members and my wife," Dang said today.

"My whole family's living depends on this business. We have to pay our mortgage, fishing gear, payments to the bank and tuitions for the education of my children."

Members of Hawaii's longline fishing industry pleaded with the National Marine Fisheries Service this morning to expedite an environmental impact statement on the effect of Hawaii's longline fleet on sea turtles in the area, which is in the eastern Pacific about 500 miles from Hawaii.

Because the fisheries service has not completed the impact statement, U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra last month ordered that portion of the Pacific closed to the local longline fleet to protect leatherneck sea turtles, which get trapped in longline gear.

The injunction affects only Hawaii-based boats. It takes effect Dec. 22 and may last up to two years, said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association.

Martin said today there are 125 active longline boats in Hawaii, which are manned by five-member crews. The closed-off area yields 33 percent of the fish caught by these boats, which translates into a total loss of $15 million in revenue a year, he said.

Such an economic impact will create a "ripple effect" that will be felt by seafood distributors and wholesalers, as well as the general public, which may see higher fish prices as the injunction continues, he warned.

Prices on ahi and sashimi for the New Year are not likely to be affected, but that may change, he said.

"The damage to the seafood industry in Hawaii will be irreparable if we cannot expedite the completion (of the EIS) in a much shorter time," Martin said.

Nevertheless, conservationists and others maintain that longline industry's claims are full of misinformation. The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund says the total value of all swordfish caught in the closed area during 1998 was less than $4 million -- about 8 percent of the longliners' total revenue.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said 95 percent of local longliners catch their ahi in areas that will remain open.

"If you pay more for sashimi this New Year's, don't blame the injunction," Achitoff said.

Bob Endreson of the Western Pacific Fisheries Coalition said longliners from other states will not travel to the closed area because most boats cannot make the 6,000-mile round trip, and the winter weather would make it difficult.

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