Trump Administration Sued After Permitting 60 Mile Longline Fishery Off The California Coast Despite Threat To Endangered Species

The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the Trump administration for permitting a new longline fishery in the Pacific Ocean.

The fishery, authorized in May 2019 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, would operate off the coast of California despite a federal ban on longline gear created in 2004 to protect sea turtles. Longlines stretch up to 60 miles, with 1,000 hooks intended to catch swordfish and tuna. This longline netting will threaten endangered leatherback sea turtles, olive ridley and loggerhead sea turtles, as well as Guadalupe fur seals.

“Leatherback sea turtles need to catch a break, not a longline hook,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center For Biological Diversity Senior Attorney. “Californians demand more selective and sustainable fishing for swordfish. But the indiscriminate longlines authorized by the Trump administration will hook, injure and drown endangered species off our coast.”

“This is basically the same fishery the agency outlawed fifteen years ago, and the same agency is using a backdoor maneuver to get the fishery reopened,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network in a statement. “Sea turtles could go extinct if deadly longline fisheries are expanded. And it’s not just in California— the Hawaii longline fleet has been forced to close early two years in a row because they have exceeded their legal turtle take. It makes no sense to re-authorize this wasteful fishery off of California.”

Sea turtles become hooked while trying to take longline bait or become entangled while swimming through the walls of nearly invisible lines and hooks  that can drown the turtles or leave them fatally injured. Seabirds such as Laysan and black-footed albatross also dive for the bait and become hooked; worldwide, longline fishing has caused precipitous declines in most albatross populations.

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are highly endangered, with scientists predicting their extinction in 20 years. Yet the “exempted” fishery will occur in an area that includes the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area, which prohibits swordfish fishing using drift gillnets to protect leatherback sea turtles.

Loggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles are also endangered. Guadalupe fur seals are threatened and have been stranding on California beaches, sick and malnourished, for five years in a row in an unusual mortality event.”

The California Coastal Commission requested approval to review the proposed permit to determine whether it was consistent with the California Coastal Management Program, but the Trump administration denied the request. Despite being likely to catch sea turtles and Guadalupe fur seals — imperiled animals protected by state and federal law — the Trump administration found the fishery would not affect California’s coastal resources.

Last week’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, notes that the Fisheries Service issuance of the permit violated several environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The suit seeks to invalidate the permit, protecting the turtles and seals from longlines.

The Fisheries Service issued the permit on May 8th 2019, about a year after federal court ordered the Hawaiian shallow-set longline fishery closed to protect endangered loggerhead sea turtles following a lawsuit filed by Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice. After the court invalidated the inflated limits on incidental catch of sea turtles, the lower limits compelled an immediate closure of the Hawaiian shallow-set longline fishery.

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