Fishing operations are leading endangered species into extinction, according to conservationists.
Conservationists are fighting to protect threatened and endangered marine species from being harmed by longline fishing operations in the Pacific Ocean, and on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi, the non-profit environmental law organization Earthjustice recently filed a lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit accuses the National Marine Fisheries Service of violating the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to provide adequate protection for endangered and threatened marine species. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the agency failed to complete essential “biological opinions,” which are meant to evaluate the risks to wildlife and provide mitigation measures to protect them, for multiple fishing operations. The opinions are required under federal law before permits for longline fishing can be renewed.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service has a legal and moral obligation to take all measures necessary to protect threatened and endangered marine species in Hawaii’s longline fishery,” said Earthjustice attorney Kylie Wager Cruz. “Our clients shouldn’t have to sue the agency to ensure these species get the protections they need, but we’re prepared to take that step to ensure the agency takes swift action.”
The suit was filed against the Fisheries Service in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on Wednesday. Among the species affected by the fishing operations are the Hawaiian green sea turtle, the olive ridley sea turtle, and the loggerhead sea turtle.
The complaint notes that between 2017 and 2019, the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery injured and killed almost twice the number of green and olive ridley sea turtles allowed under its incidental take limits and continuously exceeded the take limits for loggerhead sea turtles. The Fisheries Service has delayed the completion of the biological opinions nearly ten times since originally committing to completing them in 2019.
Marine conservationists argue that immediate action is necessary to protect these endangered species, or the lax of a sufficient response could lead to their extinction. According to media sources, “The Hawaii fishery is responsible for nearly 90% of the swordfish catch in the United States and sells to a wide range of customers from high-end restaurants to discount supermarkets but is also frequently criticized for accidentally killing or injuring protected species.”
This is not the first time the Fisheries Service has faced criticism for failing to protect marine life. In 2021, the agency was sued by several conservation groups for failing to protect right whales from entanglements in lobster fishing gear.
“For centuries, these whales were imperiled by excessive hunting,” Judge James Boasberg of the District of Columbia wrote at the time. “But today the greatest human-caused threat comes from entanglement in fishing gear.”
This recent lawsuit highlights the importance of preserving and protecting our natural resources, especially those that are endangered or threatened. It’s imperative for the entire ecosystem to properly function.