Thursday, May 3, 2001

Environment group
upset as Hawaii fishing
boats move to Calif.

The group files a suit to protect turtles

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO >> In response to increased Hawaiian restrictions on longline fishing vessels, fishermen are moving east to California. And that has prompted an environmental group to sue, hoping to keep the vessels from harming Pacific leatherback turtles.

The suit was filed yesterday on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. It asks that the National Marine Fisheries Service review permits that allow longline fishing vessels to fish off the coast of California.

In April, a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii ordered the closure of the longline swordfish fleet there and reduced the tuna fleet to minimize the impact of the lines on the turtle.

About 40 vessels instead moved to California.

"The number of vessels now landing in California has increased," said Todd Steiner, director of Turtle Island. "We know the animals are in desperate need of relief."

A recent report predicted the turtles will become extinct in the Pacific in five to 10 years without reductions in adult deaths caused by fishing vessels. Scientists estimate there are less than 3,000 leatherbacks remaining in the eastern Pacific.

"What we're trying to do is bring longline fishing off the coast of California under federal environmental review," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "These boats operating out of California have never had any such environmental review. At the same time, they can fish because they have a federal permit."

A call to the National Marine Fisheries Service was not immediately returned yesterday.

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