HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's longline fishing industry will have to stop fishing for swordfish because of court agreement designed to protect loggerhead sea turtles.
Conservation groups sued in federal court in 2012, arguing that the National Marine Fisheries Service was using a faulty scientific opinion to allow the longliners to accidentally kill too many of the endangered turtles.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed back in December that the fisheries service did not follow the right process in setting the cap on turtle kills or injuries and sent the case back to federal court in Hawaii.
Last week, attorneys for the federal government, the Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center Biological Diversity agreed longlining for swordfish, which is called "shallow set," should halt until the end of 2018. During that time, the fisheries service is expected to do the appropriate research and come up with a new limit on loggerhead takes.
An attorney for Earthjustice, who represented the conservation groups, said the fishery was likely going to be shut down soon anyway because it had already killed 33 turtles by March and the limit was 34.
It's not clear what impact the shutdown will have on Hawaii's longline fleet, which is mostly crewed by foreign fishermen.
Most of the swordfish caught in Hawaiian waters is frozen and shipped overseas. It's also unclear whether the vessels can change gears and shift to other species for the remainder of the season.
Hawaii News Now's efforts to reach attorneys or longline industry represenatives were unsuccessful.