Hawaiian longline fishery for swordfish closed due to turtle interactions
The Hawaiian shallow-set longlines fishery for swordfish has been closed because a vessel caught a loggerhead turtle - the 17th this year, which reached the allowable limit for interactions with the species, set by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The interaction cap was reduced from 34 to 17 due to a court settlement in May of last year, though the North Pacific loggerhead population is increasing every year by 2.4 percent.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has been waiting for the NMFS to complete a new biological opinion for the fishery, so that the interaction cap for loggerhead turtles can be modified. On board every vessel of the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish, there is a federal observer tracking species interactions.
Kitty M. Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, wrote in a report earlier this week that the “pace with which MNFS PIRO [Pacific Islands Regional Office] responds to federal and legal procedures has left all of the region’s major fisheries at risk.”
Hawaiian fisherman Roger Dang wrote a letter to the council, reading in part: “We have all spent the last several months working with some of the largest swordfish buyers in the U.S. to develop a buying and shipping program to support the U.S./Hawaii swordfish fishery. These buyers initially expressed concerns on the reliability and continuity of supply because of the hard cap being reached in 2018. Still, they committed since the start of the 2019 season … The lengthy delay of a biological opinion was critical for us, and we feel the agency has failed us greatly.”
The Hawaiian longline fishery for swordfish, which scientists say is healthy and not overfished, is responsible for between 50 and 60 percent of the country’s domestic production of the fish.
Last year, the fishery was shut out of a 132,000-square-mile area known as the Southern Exclusion Zone because of an interaction with a false killer whale.