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Closure of Swordfish fishery underscores Sea Turtle management success

Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Honolulu, HAWAII — The Hawaii shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish has reached 33 of 34 allowed loggerhead sea turtle interactions for 2018 and was closed last week by the National Marine Fisheries Service until Jan. 1, 2019, as a settlement agreement approved by the US District Court, District of Hawaii. Hawaii swordfish is landed and shipped fresh, ice-chilled and not frozen, with the primary market being the continental United States. Hawaii produces half of the US domestic swordfish.

"The record of 99 percent live releases, only two mortalities in 24 years and increasing loggerhead abundance over the past two decades underscore the management success of the Hawaii shallow-set longline fishery," notes Kitty M. Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

The average number of loggerhead interactions since 2004 translates to an annual impact of less than 0.005 percent of the loggerhead nesting female population, i.e., population abundance.

Measures implemented in the early 2000s reduced sea turtle interactions in the fishery by 93 percent. Gear requirements, developed by the Council with the industry, include circle hooks and mackerel-type bait. Use of squid bait is prohibited. Observer coverage is 100 percent, i.e., mandatory for all vessels and all trips. All vessel owners and operators annually attend mandatory protected species workshops. All longline vessels are required to carry specified tools to safely remove hooks and lines from the turtles and to follow safe handling, resuscitation and release procedures. Vessels are monitored through a mandatory satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) developed by the Council. Longline closed areas have existed from 0 to 50 nautical miles of the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands since the early 1990s.

Circle hooks and mackerel bait is now considered worldwide to be the best measure in longline swordfish fisheries for reducing impacts to sea turtles. They have been adopted as the primary sea turtle conservation measure for shallow-set longline fisheries by international regional fishery management organizations, such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.     

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