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Saturday, May 13, 2000

Special to the Star-Bulletin
A federal inspector shows black-footed albatross that were
inadvertently caught by a long-line fishing boat based in Hawaii.
The federal government's layoff of 12 of the 14 long-line
inspectors in Hawaii has intensified concern for the plight of
green sea turtles and other endangered sea creatures who are
vulnerable to long-line fishing methods.

Layoff of long-line
inspectors spurs concern
for sea creatures

By Pat Gee


The federal government has dramatically cut the number of observers monitoring long-line fishing boats to see if they snag green sea turtles, monk seals and other endangered creatures.

The National Marine Fisheries Service laid off on Tuesday 12 of the 14 inspectors in Hawaii.

Carroll Cox, head of EnviroWatch Inc., said the 14 positions provided monitoring for only 3 percent to 5 percent of the state's 118 long-line vessels.

Long-line fishing vessels inadvertently snare endangered species such as turtles, dolphins, albatrosses and monk seals.

At a news conference yesterday, Cox said the Hawaii Longline Observer Program under the Fisheries Service was "never funded adequately." He is afraid the drastic cut signals the death of the program and from now on "we will only be guessing" at what goes on at sea.

Charles Karnela, administrator of the Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Area Office, said the positions were cut because of a lack of funding and "no money is in the budget for next year." Karnela said it is with "great regret that this is being done" because "it's everybody's feeling that we should have more observers."

Karnela and Cox disagreed about whether the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act mandate an observer program.

Jonathan Lono Kane, regional director of the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific, said the layoff showed a "total disregard for labor laws" as the union has been negotiating a contract on behalf of the observers for the past year, and working conditions must stay the same until it is finalized. Kane said he is planning to file unfair labor practice charges against the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Fisheries Service parent agency, which has not yet responded to his calls.

Karnela said he was not aware that anything illegal was done by putting the observers on indefinite leave without pay, and that "our attorneys are aware of what we are doing."

Cox said his group is afraid future monitoring will depend on the long-line vessels' own documentation of interaction with marine mammals, which might not be accurate. The vessels would not want to jeopardize their own interests by reporting any negative impact on endangered species.

"If an observer is not aboard the boat, how would we know they're adhering to the rules?" he asked.

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