Longliners face new
rules over dolphin kin

Hawaii's longline fishing industry is facing new restrictions aimed at protecting false killer whales because of a reclassification by federal wildlife officials.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has reclassified the isles' longline fleet from Category III to Category I, which will allow the agency to convene a committee to draft a management plan aimed at reducing the number of incidental killings of the marine mammals, a member of the dolphin family.

By changing the designation, the federal agency was "finally acknowledging the devastating toll that the Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet inflicts on the Hawaii population of false killer whales," the environmental law firm Earthjustice said in a statement.

In November, Earthjustice had filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the National Marine Fisheries Service of failing to protect false killer whales from the Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet.

The suit was filed on behalf of the community group Hui Malama i Kohola, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

"If we don't act quickly, we may lose forever not only Hawaii's false killer whales, but also many other marine mammals, turtles and seabirds," said Todd Steiner, director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Earthjustice said Hawaii's longline industry kills or seriously injures an average of about four false killer whales annually, nearly four times the level of death and injury that the National Marine Fisheries Service has determined the Hawaii population can sustain.

"It is high time for NMFS finally to comply with the law by developing and putting in place a take reduction plan that will ensure the false killer whale's survival," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin.

Jim Cook, co-owner of the fishery supply firm Pacific Ocean Producers and legal liaison to the Hawaii Longline Association, said he questions the data upon which the federal agency based its decision.

Bill Robinson, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service's Pacific Islands Regional Office, said it was too early to speculate on what regulatory effect reclassifying the Hawaii longline fishery in the 2004 List of Fisheries will have on the fishery.

"In the meantime we are hopeful that the new regulatory measures recently put into place to reduce encounters with endangered sea turtles will also benefit marine mammals," he said.

National Marine Fisheries Service



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