There are currently 98 longline vessels regularly operating in and around Hawaii. The vessels engaged in this fishery range from 43 foot wooden boats up to 165 foot modern steel ships capable of fishing for periods of 2-3 months. The primary targets in the Hawaiian longline fleet are swordfish and sashimi grade yellowfin and bigeye tunas, all of which are high value products. There is a considerable bycatch in this fishery, typically consisting of six species of sharks (blue, mako, thresher, brown, Galapagos, and tiger), mahimahi (dolphin fish), wahoo, barracuda, moonfish, pomfrets, oilfish, two species of albatross (laysan and blackfooted), dolphins, and 5 species of turtles. Occasionally, whales, additional species of sharks, turtles, and two seal species, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, are also taken as bycatch.
All species of sharks taken in this fishery are taken as bycatch. The volume is horrifying. From 1991 through the second quarter of 1997 694,653 sharks were unintentionally caught in the Hawaiian longline fishery.
20 The number of sharks caught in this fishery peaked in 1993 at 154,608.
21 Since that time the number has declined to about 101,000, and there are indications (declines in catch per unit effort) that the populations may be declining.
Increasing demand in Asia for shark products has resulted in a dramatic increase in retention of sharks caught as bycatch. The percentage of sharks kept in part or whole has risen to 53.4%, from 3.2% in 1991, a 17 fold increase over a six year period.
22 Approximately one percent of sharks retained in the Hawaiian longline fishery are landed whole, the remaining 99% of those retained are finned.
23 Finning is illegal in the U.S. Atlantic shark fishery, but despite mounting opposition, is still allowed in the Pacific for fishermen from the U.S. and other countries. The amount of waste produced by this practice is phenomenal. In 1995, of the 3.5 million pounds of sharks landed in Hawaii, only 48,900 pounds, less than 1.4% of the total landed weight, were utilized, yielding a total value of $830,000.
24 The damage done to regional shark stocks by the unintentional annual removal of more than 100,000 of these apex predators is unknown. What is known is that regional shark populations around the world have universally collapsed when subjected to sustained fishing pressure, regardless of whether the pressure was a result of a directed fishery or of bycatch. Many overfished shark stocks have never recovered, and recovery can take decades. Without implementing measures to reduce the number of sharks caught incidentally in the Hawaiian longline fishery, it will undoubtedly collapse as well.
The number of sea birds and turtles caught as bycatch in this fishery is climbing at an alarming rate. In 1996 an estimated 625 laysan albatross and 1189 black-footed albatross were caught as bycatch in this fishery.
25 The number of laysan albatross hooked in just the first quarter of 1997 was 1.5 times greater than the bycatch for all of 1996, while the bycatch of black-footed were at roughly the same level for the same period last year. Additionally, the number of albatrosses and turtles being hooked is rising faster than the increase in the number of hooks being set. Through the first quarter of 1997, the rate at which loggerhead sea turtles in the Hawaiian longline fishery were being hooked was higher than at anytime in the past three years.
26 U.S. Atlantic Drift Longline Fishery
The U.S. Atlantic longline fleet consists of approximately 300 active vessels which primarily target swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and to a lesser extent, bigeye tuna. Fishing effort in terms of numbers of hooks fished has increased 70% over the last decade. In 1993, according to vessel logbooks, over 360,000 fish, representing nearly 70 species, were captured on longline hooks. Of this total, about half were thrown back into the sea, and more than half of these were reported dead when returned to the water. An unknown number of those discarded alive died of trauma or predation afterward.
Among the dead discards are tens of thousands of juvenile swordfish; thousands of marlin and sailfish; thousands upon thousands of sharks; and hundreds of rare giant bluefin tuna.
In 1996, an estimated 40,000 juvenile swordfish were discarded dead by U.S. Atlantic commercial fishermen;
83% of the female swordfish and 36% of male swordfish caught in 1995 by the U.S. Atlantic commercial fishing industry were sexually immature; caught before they were able to spawn even one time.
27 In 1993, longliners fishing for swordfish in the northwest Atlantic caught 50,000 blue sharks, twice their catch of swordfish. All were thrown overboard; nearly half were dead.
In 1995, 1,349 rare bluefin tuna were caught as bycatch and discarded dead.
Atlantic swordfish, blue and white marlin, bluefin tuna, and 21 species of sharks are designated overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and international fisheries authorities. Although regulations are in place to limit the landings of these species, they do not prevent these overfished species from being killed on non-selective longline hooks. As a result, fishing mortality remains substantially higher than recommended by scientists and impedes efforts to rebuild the overfished populations to optimum levels.
According to Ocean Roulette: Conserving Swordfish, Sharks, and other Threatened Pelagic Fish in Longline-Infested Waters, a new report by the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, the need to control the use of non-selective longlines and reduce the associated bykill have been recognized for over two decades, yet the problem has only worsened because there are fewer fish to catch, and the fisheries have changed. The longline fisheries have evolved into opportunistic, multi-target fisheries as many large pelagic fish populations in the Atlantic Ocean have declined due to overfishing -- most are now at historic lows and several are severely depleted. Fishery managers are rendered incapable of effectively controlling fishing mortality for any single species as fishermen take advantage of the non-selectivity of their gear to catch a wide range of marketable fish.
The report concludes that traditional management strategies that attempts to control fishery outputs, like what fish are legally landed and in what number, are not effective for the longline fisheries. The report states that management must regulate inputs; the gear itself and where, when, and how it is used.