An agreement between environmental groups and the federal government should protect endangered Pacific loggerhead turtles from the swordfishing industry. Last year 46 endangered Pacific loggerhead turtles were hooked on longlines intended for swordfish in Hawaii. While this may not sound like a significant number, their population has declined 80 percent in just two decades. (Pacific leatherback turtles declined 95 percent in the same period.)
Vessels targeting swordfish pull miles of fishing line and floats with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks in the ocean. Sea turtles sometimes go for the bait and get hooked or become caught up in the many nearly transparent lines. Pacific loggerheads are currently at risk of extinction, according to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. They also say thousands of these turtles are caught off the coasts of Japan and Mexico and in open ocean. (They migrate to Japan for nesting, stopping in Hawaii, and then return to Baja California and Mexico.) After highseas driftnets were banned in 1991, longline fishing vessels from many nations set over 3 million hooks on 100,000 miles of longline every day, according to an article from the University of Hawaii.
The Center for Biological Diversity had to file a complaint in federal court to prohibit the increase of Pacific loggerhead bycatch, meaning turtles that are accidentally caught when vessels are trying to capture swordfish. The federal government’s loggerhead restoration plan acknowledged the impact of commercial swordfish catches: “A primary threat to the species in the Pacific is from the incidental mortalities associated with commercial fisheries, particularly longline and net fisheries. This threat must be minimized for recovery of this species.”
Swordfish contain mercury, enough that the EPA has suggested women and small children do not eat any. A recent study in California found swordfish and tuna from restaurants and grocery stores contained three times the limit established by the government as acceptable.
Seabirds, humpback whales and false killer whales also can become entangled in the lines. As many as 100,000 Albatross might be killed each year from longline fishing. (The video below shows the threats from commercial fishing to the pacific loggerheads when they are in Mexican waters.)