HONOLULU (AP) — The National Marine Fisheries Service was asked in a lawsuit filed in Hawaii to protect Pacific oceanic white-tip sharks, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of several conservation groups, including the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Michael Nakachi, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and owner of a local scuba diving company.
“No protections exist to prevent fisheries from capturing oceanic white-tip sharks as bycatch,” said Moana Bjur, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii. “That needs to change if we are to prevent this incredible apex predator from going extinct. That’s why we’re going to court.”
The lawsuit alleges that the marine agency failed to declare that Pacific oceanic white-tip sharks are overfished, despite data showing thousands are killed each year.
The lawsuit claims the declaration would trigger further protective action by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.
A spokeswoman says the NOAA Fisheries does not comment on litigation matters.
Oceanic white-tip sharks were historically one of the most abundant sharks in the world, but their population declined because of fishing pressure, experts said.
An estimated 20,000 sharks were captured as bycatch over the past decade.
And some white-tip sharks have been killed by shark finning, which is prohibited by state law.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the marine agency to take necessary protections for the species no later than 30 days after the court order is given.
“The oceanic white-tip shark’s unique biology, coupled with the preventable threat of getting accidentally hooked or trapped in fishing gear, means that it is past time for the federal government to do its job and take swift action to protect this species,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy.