Swords Drawn

Over Swordfish

An endangered leatherback sea turtle.

Since its earliest days, the Hawai‘i swordfish fleet has been bedeviled by the presence of sea turtles in the same waters as the fish it seeks to catch when setting out miles of lines.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. For the first decade or so of its existence, the boats, and the agency that nominally regulated them, simply ignored the fact that the fleet injured or killed increasing numbers of endangered and threatened species of turtles. Not until litigation stopped the fleet in its tracks in 2001 did vessel owners, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council begin to pay serious attention to the harm done to turtles.

Fifteen years after the swordfish boats were allowed back on the water, the question of how to protect sea turtles – particularly the endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads – seems to loom as large as ever with the recent release of a draft biological opinion (BiOp) for the fishery.