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False Killer Whale Hooking Threatens Tuna Fishery Closure

March 8, 2013, 12:47 PM HST (Updated March 8, 2013, 1:53 PM) · 0 Comments
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False Killer Whale hooking, file photo from unrelated incident. File photo courtesy Earthjustice.

False Killer Whale hooking, file photo from unrelated incident. File photo courtesy Earthjustice.

By Wendy Osher

The National Marine Fisheries Service has confirmed the hooking of a false killer whale in Hawaiian waters, saying injuries would likely be fatal.

The false killer whale, which is a large dolphin species, was reportedly hooked on Jan. 29, 2013 by a Hawai’i-based longline tuna fishing boat.

A second such hooking of a false killer whale in Hawaiian waters this calendar year would reportedly trigger the closure of the fishery to tuna longline fishing for an area encompassing more than 112,000 square nautical miles south of the main Hawaiian islands–that according to officials with the legal firm Earthjustice.

The rule was established as part of the Fisheries Service’s Killer Whale Take Reduction Plan that was issued in November 2012 in response to a series of lawsuits brought by Earthjustice.

The suits were filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network in an effort to protect Hawaii’s false killer whales from unsustainable levels of death and serious injury related to the longline fishery.

Brendan Cummings with the Center for Biological Diversity said the hooking less than a month into 2013, “should be a wake-up call to longline fishers that they need to put the protection plan into effect immediately or risk closure of their fishing grounds.” Cummings, who served on the working group that helped to develop the plan said the plan requires weaker hooks and stronger lines, to prevent such injuries.

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The weak hooks, authorities say, are strong enough to hold an ahi tuna, but weak enough to allow a larger and stronger species like the false killer whale, to straighten the hook and pull it out.  Stronger branch lines, they say, would prevent line breakage during marine mammal hookings.

The gear modification requirements did not take effect until Feb. 27, 2013, a month after the fatal hooking.

Authorities from Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network issued a joint media statement saying the false killer whale was hooked in the mouth and released when the line broke, with an estimated 20-30 feet of branch line, the leader, and hook still attached.

In November 2012, the Fisheries Service reportedly listed the Hawai‘i Insular Stock (false killer whales found within 87 miles of the main Hawaiian islands) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. According to the joint release, there are an estimated 170 animals in the area, with a population that has been declining by 9% per year since 1989.

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