False Killer Whales Protected: The lawsuit brought last June against the National Marine Fisheries Service over failure to protect false killer whales from injury inflicted by Hawai`i longline fishing vessels has been settled. Under an agreement announced last month, the service will implement protections for the animals – which are actually large dolphins – by the end of the month.
The service had developed a plan to protect the animals more than two years ago. At that time, and again in response to litigation, it convened a take reduction team. Within six months, the team had come up with a plan to significantly reduce, if not altogether eliminate, the interactions between the longliners and the false killer whales. However, until now, NMFS had not taken steps to implement the measures called for.
Last June, six months after the legal deadline for NMFS to act had passed, Earthjustice sued the service, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.
In announcing the settlement, Earthjustice noted that NMFS’ “own data have shown for over a decade that Hawai`i-based longline fishing kills false killer whales in Hawaiian waters at unsustainable rates. The latest data, which the agency released in August 2012, reveal that, each year, longline fishing kills an average of more than 13 false killer whales from the Hawai`i Pelagic Stock (animals found more than 22 nautical miles from the main Hawaiian islands), nearly 50 percent more than what the agency has said that population can sustain.”
Also, “False killer whales in the Hawai`i Insular Stock (animals found within 76 nautical miles of the main Hawaiian Islands) are being killed … at nearly twice the sustainable rate… Only about 150 of these animals remain, and the Fisheries Service has proposed to list them as ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act.”
According to Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, “It has taken three lawsuits over nearly a decade to compel the Fisheries Service finally to protect Hawai`i’s false killer whales. Without citizen suits, the agency may well have dragged its feet until it was too late to save these unique marine mammals.”
A Cancelled Meeting: Last month, staff with the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife were forced to reschedule a meeting of the Forest Stewardship Advisory Committee. The reason?
Failure to comply with the Sunshine Law.
The meeting had been scheduled for October 11. However, contrary to Sunshine Law requirements, no notice of the meeting was sent to those individuals (including Environment Hawai`i) who had requested to be notified of the committee’s meetings. The notice posted at the Lieutenant Governor’s office included no start time for the meeting.
When Environment Hawai`i was informed of the meeting, just two days before it was scheduled to be held, we asked that it be cancelled. After consulting with the attorney general’s office and the Office of Information Practices, DLNR staff made the decision to cancel. The meeting was later rescheduled to October 29.
Environment Hawai`i first requested to be notified of FSAC meetings in 2007. At that time, we were informed that the committee was not subject to the Sunshine Law. We appealed to the OIP, which, in July 2011, issued a memorandum opinion that found the committee did, indeed, have to give notice of its meetings to anyone who requested.
Volume 23, Number 5 — November 2012