Sea change in Hawaii

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2000:

HONOLULU––Federal District Judge David Ezra on June 23 effectively closed the Hawaiian longline fishery if the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot achieve “100% coverage” of the fleet with onboard observers within 30 days to insure protection of endangered species.

If the ruling is not amended or overturned on appeal, 115 vessels with 600 crew will be idled.

Fourteen NMFS observers monitored 3% to 5% of longliner sailings from 1995 through April 2000. On May 9, however, 12 of the 14 observers were laid off.

The defacto scuttling of the observer program came to light through an expose by Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch, published in the June edition of Hawaii Fishing News. Cox also posted photographs of endangered monk seals, sea turtles, and albatrosses who had been injured or killed by longliners at .

Western Pacific Fishery Management Council executive director Kitty Simonds wrote in support of Cox’s disclosures, and all four members of the Hawaiian Congressional delegation demanded that NMFS restore the observer program.

When NMFS failed to do so, Judge Ezra expanded a regional longline fishery closure order originally issued on November 22, 1999, ruling in response to a petition presented by the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Center for Marine Conservation and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Ezra’s verdict and Simonds’s endorsement were sweet vindication for Cox, who as a then-special investigator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed the Hawaiian longline industry for a time in 1990 over violations of the Endangered Species Act. Cox received the Joseph A. Calloway Award for Civic Courage from consumer advocate Ralph Nader in the complicated aftermath, but lost his job for accepting it. Simonds was among his strongest critics.

Only one day before the Ezra verdict, Cox was vindicated on another issue he long worked to expose, as Hawaii Governor Benjamin Cayetano on June 22 signed legislation which “prohibits any person from landing shark fins in the state, unless the fins were taken from a shark landed whole in the state.”

On June 5 the U.S. House of Representatives passed similar legislation, now before the Senate, applying to all U.S. coastal waters. A 1993 federal law against catching sharks only for their fins applies only to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Hawaiian longliners subsequently increased their shark take from 2,289 in 1991 to 60,857 in 1998––98% of them killed to meet Asian demand for shark fin soup.

The shark finning ban followed a National Marine Fisheries Service ban on lobstering in Hawaiian waters for the rest of 2000, to protect one of the staple foods of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, after the local lobster population fell by as much as 30% in two years. Cox had also written extensively about that problem, including in a 1997 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column.

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