Shutting Down the Swordfish Fleet

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is supporting the proposal by the United States government to shut down the swordfish fishing fleet on the West Coast.

National Marine Fisheries is proposing strict restrictions on methods used to take swordfish by March 2004.

"The sooner, they take action on this, the better," said Captain Paul Watson. "Sea turtle mortality, especially the endangered Leatherbacks are high and we cannot afford to lose any of these rare animals. The U.S. swordfish fishing fleet is routinely violating the Endangered Species Act every time a turtle dies on one of the 1.5 million hooks they set each year.

"This is not a major blow to the fishermen," continued Captain Watson. "We're talking about two dozen fishing boats. The fishermen argue that they only take an average of 174 Loggerheads and 53 Leatherbacks each year. These so called incidental kills are unacceptable, especially for the Leatherbacks."

The sword fishermen were banned from Hawaii a few years ago by conservation restrictions. Many of them moved to California as a result. The laws protecting turtles in Hawaii must also be applicable to the other states of the Union.

The sword fishery is a longline fishery and this is one of the most destructive fishery techniques developed. In addition to killing turtles, the long lines have a high incidental kill of sea birds, especially albatross.

"I will lose everything I have," Alan Duong said to the Los Angeles Times on December 18. Earlier this Duong year bought a new $1.2-million fishing boat. "I put everything I had into the boat. I borrowed money from everyone I know, all my relatives, and we still owe the bank."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society believes that the Federal government should compensate Duong and the other fishermen for their material loss but the Endangered Species Act must prevail. The livelihood of a handful of fishermen cannot justify the extinction of the Leatherback.

The proposed regulations are scheduled to go into effect in March. The regulations will ban the setting of long lines above 100 feet below the surface where turtles and birds can fall prey to the hooks

Because commercial fishermen catch their prey by setting squid baited lines near the surface, the regulations will effectively eliminate the catching of swordfish.

This is also good news for consumers because swordfish is one of the most toxic of fish taken from the sea. Mercury, PCB's and other heavy metals are especially high in this large predatory fish.