Turtle conservation rules cut Hawaii’s swordfish season short for 2nd year in a row

Updated: Mar. 21, 2019 at 7:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Swordfish season typically run through the month of June.

But the 15 boats that make up Hawaii’s shallow-set longline fleet are sidelined for now.

That’s because a law protecting endangered sea turtles has cut Hawaii’s commercial season short for the second year in a row.

Earlier this week, fisherman hooked a loggerhead turtle ― the 17th one of the year.

By law, that interaction brought the fleet’s season to an abrupt end.

The incident has members of the fishery management council calling on government to loosen regulations.

“It impacts fisherman. It impacts jobs. When the fishery closes, boats don’t go out,” said Archie Solia, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council chairman.

The Hawaii fleet snags more than half of all the broadbill swordfish caught in the United States.

Most are shipped to the mainland. With no supply, those buyers will be forced to go overseas.

Meanwhile, boat owners face a tough decision: Fish for something else or sit at the dock.

“Some boats can’t afford to switch gear so they’re just going to have to tie up. And when you tie up there’s no income,” said Solia.

David Henkin is an attorney at Earthjustice, and has a different perspective on the issue. He says the population of loggerhead turtles has declined 90 percent over the past 60 years and need protection.

“I think the fact that the fishery hit its limit on how many turtles it can harm less than three months into the year is a testament to the existential threat this fishery poses to the loggerhead turtle,” he said.

While there has been a slight increase in the population in recent years, Henkin say the species is still at risk.

“The fisheries biologist have looked at the situation and determined there is a maximum of 17 of these turtles that can be hooked each year and not risk the species going extinct,” said Henkin.

Fishery officials say all of the turtles hooked this year were released alive.

In the meantime, federal officials are doing another evaluation on longlining’s impacts on the species. The fishery won’t reopen until it’s complete.

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