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For Immediate Release, March 17, 2009

Contact: 

David Henkin, Earthjustice, 808-599-2436 x 614
William Aila, Hui Mälama I Koholä, (808) 330-0376
Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 306
Todd Steiner, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 488-0370 x 103

 Conservation Groups Sue to Protect False Killer Whales in Hawai'i:
Longline Fishery Killing Whales at Twice Sustainable Levels

HONOLULU— Seeking an end to the continuing slaughter of false killer whales in the waters of Hawai‘i, Earthjustice, representing a coalition of conservation groups, filed suit in federal court in Honolulu today against the National Marine Fisheries Service, challenging the agency’s failure to devise a plan to protect the whales from the Hawai‘i-based longline fishery. The coalition includes Hui Mälama I Koholä, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Each year, the Hawai‘i-based longline fleet hooks and entangles false killer whales, resulting in serious injury or death through drowning. The Fisheries Service’s own studies show that, for nearly a decade, the Hawai‘i longline fishery has been killing Hawai‘i’s false killer whales at rates far beyond what the population – which currently numbers only about 500 – can sustain.

“In 1994, Congress amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act to require the Fisheries Service to try to eliminate marine mammal death and serious injury in commercial fisheries,” explained David Henkin, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing the coalition in court. “For years, the agency has ignored its legal duty to develop a plan to reduce the longline fishery’s deadly interactions with false killer whales and other marine mammals. Hawai‘i’s marine mammals are paying with their lives for the Fisheries Service’s refusal to comply with the law.”

“The Hawaiian values of mälama (to care for) and kuleana (to be responsible for) mean that we all have to take part in protecting Hawai‘i’s false killer whales from needless deaths in the longline fishery’s gear,” explained William Aila of Hui Mälama I Koholä .

“The National Marine Fisheries Service has ignored our pleas to address the slaughter of false killer whales, claiming inadequate funds, but it’s never bothered to ask Congress to appropriate the money needed to get the job done,” said Andrea Treece, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“For far too long, the Bush administration ignored its obligation to save Hawai‘i’s false killer whales,” said Todd Steiner, director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We hope the Obama administration will understand the need to address the slaughter of these unique animals quickly, before it’s too late.”

Background:

On August 10, 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit representing the same three conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service reclassified the Hawai‘i-based longline fishery as “Category I” due to its excessive incidental take of Hawai‘i’s false killer whales. This reclassification officially triggered the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s requirement to establish a “take reduction team” to devise a plan to bring the fishery’s incidental take “to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate.” Instead, for more than four years, the Fisheries Service has done nothing, claiming inadequate funding, while refusing to ask Congress for additional money.

A December 2008 Government Accountability Office study found that “the false killer whale is the only marine mammal for which incidental take by commercial fisheries is above its maximum removal level that is not covered by a take reduction team.”

The Fisheries Service’s longstanding refusal to establish a take (killing) reduction team for Hawai‘i’s false killer whales contravenes Congress’s command that commercial fisheries “reduce incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate.” The report also found “it is important that NMFS adhere to the deadlines in the MMPA, as delays in establishing teams and developing and finalizing take reduction plans could result in continued harm to already dwindling marine mammal populations.”

Read the study here: http://gao.gov/new.items/d0978.pdf.

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Earthjustice is a nonprofit, public-interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific office opened in Honolulu in 1988 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations. Earthjustice is the only nonprofit environmental law firm in Hawai‘i and the Mid-Pacific, and does not charge clients for its services.

Hui Mälama i Koholä is a Hawai‘i unincorporated association whose members consist of fishermen, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and others from across the state of Hawai‘i who share a common goal: the protection of koholä (whales) and other marine life. The organization seeks to promote sound management of ocean resources, with an emphasis on utilizing the precautionary approach to ensure that, seven generations from now, there will be healthy populations of koholä and other marine species for our keiki (children) to observe and to mälama (care for).

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a nonprofit environmental organization committed to the study, protection, enhancement, conservation, and preservation of the marine environment and the wildlife that lives within it. TIRN has approximately 10,000 members, many of whom reside in the state of Hawai‘i, and has offices in the United States, Costa Rica, and Papua New Guinea.

 


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