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VICTORY! NOAA Bans Deadly Wire Leaders in Hawaiian Fishery

On April 27, 2022, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service made it illegal for FEP longline fishers to use of steel wire leaders within a meter of the hook in the deep waters around the Hawaiian archipelago. Wire leaders are difficult for sharks to bite off and free themselves and difficult for fishermen to cut from deck compared to alternative monofilament leaders. The law is to go into full effect on May 31, 2022.

The oceanic whitetip shark,  Carcharhinus longimanus, is one of the most impacted species killed or mutilated as bycatch in longline fisheries.  Once one of the most widespread and abundant species of shark in the ocean, the population has crashed and the species is endangered with extinction. By 2018 their populations were threatened due to the demand for fins and accidental bycatch by longliners.


In response to a lawsuit and pressure from environmental advocacy groups, NMFS proposed to prohibit the use of wire leaders in the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery in 2020. The proposed regulation would also require the removal of fishing gear from any oceanic whitetip shark caught in all of the region’s domestic longline fisheries. The proposed action is intended to increase post-hooking survival of oceanic whitetip sharks and other threatened species such as silky sharks.

You may submit comments on this proposed rule, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2021-0099, by either of the following methods:

• Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov and enter NOAA-NMFS-2021-0099 in the Search box, click the “Comment” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

• Mail: Send written comments to Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

Talking points:

I am in strong support of the new rules prohibiting the use of wire leader within 1 meter of any hook deployed in Hawaiian deep set longline fishery.

Threatened Oceanic whitetip sharks ( Carcharhinus longimanus) and Silky Sharks (Carcharhinus falciformus) are especially impacted by this gear. Under the Endangered species Act, National Marine Fisheries has already committed to zero retention of oceanic whitetip sharks, and tis rule will help achieve that in US waters.

Eliminating this gear will protect sharks, increase safety for fishermen and limit harmful trailing line and ensure a hight survival rate of these threatened sharks.

Supplementary Information

NMFS and the Council manage the Hawaii (shallow-set and deep-set), America Samoa, and general western Pacific longline fisheries under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific (FEP) and implementing Federal regulations. These fisheries occasionally catch oceanic whitetip sharks ( Carcharhinus longimanus ), which NMFS listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on January 30, 2018 (83 FR 4153). To improve the survival of oceanic whitetip sharks caught unintentionally in the Hawaii deep-set fishery, this proposed rule would prohibit the use of steel wire line, known as wire leaders, within 1 meter of the hook. To improve the survival of oceanic whitetip sharks caught unintentionally in all of the region’s longline fisheries, this proposed rule would also require fishermen to remove fishing gear from any oceanic whitetip shark caught, with limited exceptions related to safety and data collection. Prohibiting wire leaders may also result in reductions in adverse effects to other protected species.

Prior to 2021, most vessels in the Hawaii deep-set fishery used wire leaders in the terminal portion of the fishing line between the hook and a weight that must be placed within 1 meter of the hook (see 50 CFR 665.815(a)(1)). The weight is typically in the form of a swivel, and helps to sink the hook quickly to reduce interactions with seabirds.

The wire leader also reduces the risk of crew injuries resulting from “fly backs.” Fly backs may occur when retrieving fishing gear (hauling) if the line under tension parts, either by breaking or being bitten through, between the hook and the weighted swivel or is thrown from a fish. In these cases, the weighted swivel flies back toward the vessel at high speed and there have been documented severe injuries and deaths of crewmembers. The use of wire leaders between the hook and the weight reduces the chance that the leader would part and fly back toward the vessel when crew are hauling the gear.

Although they reduce fly backs, wire leaders reduce the chances that sharks may bite off the line and release themselves before the crew retrieve the gear. We expect sharks that release themselves before the gear is retrieved to have reduced mortality relative to sharks that are released after being brought to the vessel. In addition, wire leaders make it difficult to remove fishing gear from sharks or other protected species that are too large to bring on board the vessel to remove the gear. Because it is difficult to cut the wire leader from deck height, fishermen typically cut the line closer to the vessel than the weighted swivel. This practice leaves the hook, wire leader, weighted swivel, and some amount of monofilament fishing line (collectively, trailing gear) attached to a released animal. Long trailing gear reduces survivorship of sharks and other released animals. Because monofilament nylon leaders are easier to cut from deck height, they can facilitate removal of trailing gear below the weighted swivel and close to the hook when releasing animals that are too large to bring on board.

To reduce impacts on oceanic whitetip sharks in the Hawaii deep-set fishery, the Hawaii Longline Association (HLA) announced in late 2020 that its members, comprising more than 90 percent of the Hawaii deep-set longline fleet of approximately 146 active vessels, would voluntarily switch from wire to monofilament leaders. At its June 2021 meeting, the Council recommended that wire leaders be prohibited in the Hawaii deep-set fishery, along with the recommendation to remove trailing gear. These recommendations were intended to ensure that all fishermen in the fleet stop using wire leaders and minimize the amount of trailing gear on oceanic whitetip sharks. NMFS estimates that these proposed requirements would reduce mortality of oceanic whitetip sharks hooked in the Hawaii deep-set fishery by approximately 30 percent due to a combination of higher post-hooking survival via bite-offs and reductions in trailing gear remaining on released animals. This proposed action would be implemented in conjunction with HLA outreach to fishery participants and NMFS protected species workshops to address safety concerns associated with gear fly back.

Pursuant to the Council’s recommendations, NMFS proposes to prohibit wire leaders within 1 meter of each hook on Hawaii deep-set vessels. NMFS also proposes to require vessel owners, operators and crew on vessels registered for use under any of the region’s longline permits to release oceanic whitetip sharks with minimal trailing gear, with limited exceptions for safety and data collection. This proposed rule and any related handling guidelines would be consistent with Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission best handling practices for these sharks (see https://www.wcpfc.int/doc/supplcmm-2010-07/best-handling-practices-safe-release-sharks-other-whale-sharks-and ), and NMFS regulations at 50 CFR 300.226.

NMFS will consider public comments on this proposed rule and will announce the final rule in the Federal Register . NMFS must receive comments on this proposed action by the date provided in the DATES heading. NMFS may not consider comments postmarked or otherwise transmitted after that date. Regardless of the final rule, all other existing management measures would continue to apply in the longline fisheries.