Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Michael Nakachi has always been intrinsically tied to nature, especially the ocean. That’s because the ocean is where his aumākua, or familial guardian or ancestor, is. The manō… a shark. In fact, his family’s lineage traces back to a direct line of kahu manō (shark guardians or shark keepers) from the island of Maui. Which is why Nakachi feels very strongly about what has been happening in his oceanic backyard… or, rather, what has not been happening.
A member of the West Hawai‘i Fisheries Council, Nakachi states the violations have caused direct injury to the cultural, scientific, aesthetic, recreational, conservation, educational, spiritual, and other interests of Hawai’i. Hence why he has joined the Conservation Council for Hawai’i in suing the National Marine Fisheries Service fisheries in Hawai’i and American Samoa for delaying consultations aimed at ensuring that incidental catch species – such as sea turtles, whales, and sharks – are properly managed.
In the recently filed lawsuit, both the Conservation Council and Nakachi, state that in violation of the Endangered Species Act, longline fisheries have exceeded their incidental take limits for nearly nine years. “By failing to complete the consultations, NMFS is failing to ensure that these fisheries do not jeopardize the continued existence of these species or destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat, in violation of ESA Section 7 and its implementing regulations,” the plaintiffs say in the complaint.
Fishing can be done in a number of ways, including longline fisheries. As the name suggested, this type of fishing trails a long line (or main line) with baited hooks extending vertically into the water. It primarily targets tuna but has no way to exclude non-target marine animals, luring in and eventually killing hundreds of species… including endangered ones. According to a 2019 report, “on average, the Hawaii-based pelagic longline fleet discards nearly half of the animals it catches, mostly injured or dead.” This includes sea turtles, marine mammals, sharks, large fish, and marine birds like albatrosses.
The fisheries still rely on outdated biological opinions and consultations completed in 2017 for Hawaii and 2015 for American Samoa. And action had to be taken. In mid-2022, a non-profit organization named Earthjustice, on behalf of the Conservation Council, initiated action by requesting consultations and reports be done on oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus). The charismatic animals had recently been designated by the Endangered Species Act, but did not previously have take limits. As a result of the fisheries service’s commitment to complete the consultations by September, all parties agreed to a voluntary dismissal. “The government decided to complete the consultation process but only for two of the species that they had to originally look at, the oceanic whitetip shark and giant manta ray, after the lawsuit was filed,” said Earthjustice attorney Ava Ibanez Amador. “But there are all the other species left to be assessed.”
Which is why this new suit points to another charismatic animal that is known to call both these locales home: sea turtles. Throughout 2017-2019, the Hawaii fishery killed nearly twice as many turtles as it should have, according to the Conservation Council. “During the same time, the American Samoa longline fishery injured and killed green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), and olive ridley sea (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles well above its incidental take limits,” they continued. The lawsuit also names the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), all of which vulnerable to injuries to the mouth and gut if they swallow these fishing hooks. They also often become entangled in the fishing lines, preventing these air-breathing animals from being able to swim up to surface.
Not only are the turtles getting caught up, but the discarded gear is impacting the critical habitats of other endangered or threatened species like the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), and Main Hawaiian Island insular false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens). “NMFS’s continued authorization of the Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery and American Samoa longline fishery without first completing the required consultations violates the agency’s procedural duty to complete consultation and its substantive duty to avoid jeopardy to the continued existence of listed species and destruction or modification of their critical habitat under Section 7 of the ESA,” the suit states.
Not just the whitetip shark, but all the mentioned endangered species have been injured by at least four years of delays by the fisheries service, according to the plaintiffs. They say the agency has attempted to dodge completing the consultations since 2019 by changing its expected completion dates nine times. Other defendants included in the lawsuit include the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The fisheries service said via email that they are unable to comment on matters of litigation.
A healthy ocean ecosystem relies on each of these species. Not only is there fear these animals are inching closer and closer to extinction, but there is fear for people as well. In Native Hawaiian communities, these animals play a significant role in cultural and spiritual practices, and with their loss comes the destruction of years of a special human-nature relationship. The time to act is now, says The Conservation Council, and they hope a judge takes them seriously. The plaintiffs are seeking an order requiring the fisheries service to comply with consultations and publish biological reports within 90 days, as well as declaring it has violated the Endangered Species Act.
Support Lumiserver & Cynesys on Tipeee
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.
Now you can get a free first transfer up to 500£ with your ESNcard. You can access this offer here.