On Saturday, April 4th, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to continue the prohibition on longlining on the high seas seaward of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The council had prepared an amendment (Amendment 2) to its West Coast Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (HMS FMP) that would allow up to 20 or more California-based longline vessels to set their multi-mile, multi-hook lines for swordfish in an area closed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2004 to protect endangered leatherback and threatened loggerhead sea turtles. (The West Coast EEZ is currently closed to pelagic longlining under the HMS FMP.)
The Amendment to authorize a longline fishery was supported by NMFS, the council's HMS management team and industry advisory panel, on the basis that the use of circle hooks and mackerel-type baits has been shown to reduce turtle takes. The Hawaii-based longline fishery was re-opened using the modified gear, and takes an average of 12 turtles a year, took 20 turtles in 2006 and is allowed up to 33 turtles under the Western Pacific Council's plan.
The National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Ocean Conservancy and Oceana testified at the council meeting in opposition to the Pacific Council's proposal. We pointed out that the preliminary environmental impact statement prepared by the council and NMFS showed that a west coast fishery would increase mortality to unsustainable levels, not only on the turtles, but also on overfished stocks, including bigeye and yellowfin tuna, striped marlin, and shortfin mako sharks.
After a lengthy debate the council voted 7-5 in support of a continued ban on longlining.