The Hawaii longline fleet’s efforts to replace its steel fishing leaders with more shark-friendly nylon ones are taking longer than expected.

Last year, the Hawaii Longline Association announced plans to voluntarily make the gear switch aboard all of its 143 or so fishing vessels by July.

On Tuesday, however, a protected-species coordinator with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, reported that the HLA is only two-thirds of the way through that transition.

Nakachi Shark Kahu Mano
An oceanic whitetip shark swims in Hawaiian waters in a photo by Kaikea Nakachi, part of an extensive database he’s collected for his research and practice emulating his family’s legacy as kahu mano, or “shark keepers.” Courtesy: Kaikea Nakachi

“It’s going to take some time,” HLA Executive Director Eric Kingma said Thursday. Many of the fleet’s vessels aim to use all of their steel fishing wires before making the full conversion to nylon, or monofilament ones, he said.

The switch to monofilament leaders in commercial fleets is seen as a key change that might at least somewhat help the imperiled oceanic whitetip sharp stave off extinction. The HLA fleet inadvertently catches about 1,500 whitetips a year in its bigeye tuna operations, according to Kingma.

Fishing industry watchdogs have applauded the HLA’s move while adding that it won’t go far enough if other nations’ fleets don’t follow suit.

Kingma said he now expects the HLA to complete the switch to monofilament leaders by the end of the year. Despite the delay, the industry move still preempts similar regulatory measures by the federal government that haven’t been finalized yet, he said.

“That’s why we did it. We took initiative because we know how long it takes” for those government rules to change, said Kingma, who worked for years for Wespac. 

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