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Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 18, 2009

National fisheries sued on behalf of 3 groups
By Star-Bulletin staff

A lawsuit was filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday for its alleged failure to devise a plan to protect marine mammals from Hawaii's longline fishing fleets.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of three groups: Hui Malama i Kohola, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

In August 2004, the National Marine Fisheries Service re-classified the Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet, instituting new rules due to "excessive incidental take of false killer whales," according to a news release. False killer whales are a species of dolphin that resemble killer whales, or orcas.

The reclassification triggered the Marine Mammal Protection Act's requirement to establish a take-reduction team to come up with a plan to significantly decrease the fishing fleets' level of incidental killings of false killer whales. But nothing has been done in the last four years, the groups said.

According to a December 2008 study by the federal Government Accountability Office, the National Marine Fisheries Services told officials that false killer whales were their highest priority for establishing a team, but the agency said it lacked the funding to do so.

The study further stated that fishery-related deaths of false killer whales have been at higher levels since 2004. It is also "the only marine mammal for which incidental take by commercial fisheries is known to be above its maximum removal level that is not covered by a take-reduction team," according to the study.

"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, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a news release.

"The bottom line of the lawsuit is to tell the agency enough already," said attorney David Henkin of Earthjustice. "It's time to get serious about saving false killer whales."

Officials of the National Marine Fisheries Service are reviewing the lawsuit and declined to comment at this time, said spokeswoman Wende Goo.

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