New regulations will trigger area shutdown after second fatal hooking

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 06 2013 07:07:00 PM HST

Prime fishing waters off Hawaii could be shut down with just one more bad catch.

HONOLULU -

Thinner, weaker circle hooks and thicker, less breakable fishing line are the new reality for longline fisherman, in the drive to protect false killer whales.

"If the agency hadn't dragged its feet for years, these protections would have been in place in time," said Earthjustice lawyer David Henkin.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has confirmed a Hawaii-based longline boat hooked a false killer whale in late January.

New regulations that went into effect Jan. 1, require that after two hookings that are deemed to be fatal to false killer whales will  trigger a shutdown of 112,575 square nautical miles of fishing waters south of the Hawaiian Islands for the rest of the year.

"The consequences for the false killer whale are severe. The consequences for the fishing industry could be likewise severe," said Henkin.

"Is it unfair? Yes. And already Hawaii and the U.S. management regimes are one of the most stringent management regimes in the world," said Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association.

"This is tricky. It's complex and multifaceted, and the next step is we're actually bringing a team back in May and talking about what did we get right," said Lisa van Atta, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And what they may be, getting wrong.

KITV asked longliners if the weaker hooks can release big tuna too.

Martin says it does.

Van Atta says they are still trying to find that balance between protecting two of Hawaii's assets.

It's a tangled relationship that's tough to reel in.

"It's a good plan and we need to give it time to actually work," said van Atta.

"There's certainly a degree of frustration within the industry, and generally, fisherman are trying to do the right thing, but they're trying to make a living," said Martin.

Circle hooks are meant to bend under the weight of a false killer whale and release it, while thicker lines are less likely to break off with it, but longliners say prize tuna can be about as heavy -- and therefore break away too.

The new regulations are part of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The state must reduce the number of killings within six months or face other penalties.

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