The Hawaii Longline Association has jumped into a legal fight they say threatens their livelihood. Longliners oppose a Maui fisherman's complaint against the state.
In a Circuit Court filing, the association defends its practice of hiring fishermen from foreign countries and challenges a lawsuit filed by fisherman Malama Chun.
He demands the state stop issuing commercial fishing licenses to foreign fishermen.
"The folks that make up the majority of the longline fishing boats are not lawfully admitted to the United States. When they get here, they're subject to deportation orders that the boat captains hold," said Chun's attorney Lance Collins.
But Longline Association president Sean Martin said there's nothing illegal about the state's licensing practices.
"The fish that you see at the fish auction for the most part, certainly all the fish that are landed at the fish auction by the longline fleet are highly migratory species. Therefore there's an allowance to use non-U.S. citizens as crew," he said.
More than 400 foreign born fishermen man the longline boats that dock at Honolulu Harbor.
Collins said they should feel free to report environmental abuses. But he contends that didn't happen when the Pacific Paradise fishing boat grounded off Diamond Head.
"That's the crux of the issue about having people who are free to contact authorities being able to to tell the state when natural resources are being harmed," he said.
But Martin said the fishermen are never stopped from voicing complaints and concerns to authorities. He warns if Hawaii stopped issuing foreigners fishing licenses replacing them with Hawaii labor would be very difficult.
"There's not a huge demand for these kind of jobs," he said. "They're very hard jobs. You're away from your family."
The longline license case will be heard by Maui judge in December.