The agency has argued that the "mortality of one adult female over a two-year period would present negligible additional risk to the survival and recovery of the western Pacific leatherback sea turtle population and would present no risk to the more endangered eastern Pacific population."
But Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that many turtles that get caught on the hooks don't die immediately. "If they get a dead leatherback sea turtle on the hook, they have to stop," Kilduff said. "Some number of those sea turtles would die after they get put back in the ocean."
She and other environmental groups advocate for a different type of swordfish fishing that requires more active tending by humans, and is thus more costly.
Fosmark, who is based in Monterey County and has fished swordfish in the past, said that fishing technique isn't designed "to harvest swordfish commercially. The amount of money it would take to take your boat out and do a fishery and end up with a profit isn't feasible," she explained.
Fosmark believes the lawsuit and others like it environmental groups have filed in recent years are "really about taking down the fisheries."
"They've said there's nothing the fisheries can do" to meet their environmental standards, she said.
Fishermen have continued to apply for permits to experiment with longline techniques off the Pacific coast after the ban went into force in 2004. But this is the first time the federal government has issued one.
"It really seems like the Trump administration has been pushing this," Kilduff said.
The Trump administration also denied the California Coastal Commission's request to review the proposed permit to determine whether it was consistent with the California Coastal Management Program, a federally approved system for managing and protecting the state's coastal ecosystem.
"The proposed (permit) will occur within leatherback foraging grounds and therefore have a reasonably foreseeable effect on leatherbacks ... a California coastal zone resource," the commission wrote in 2015.
The National Marine Fisheries Service responded in March 2019 "that the potentially affected leatherback sea turtles, at least in this instance where the permitted action would be far offshore, are not a coastal resource of California."
The National Marine Fisheries Service's West Coast office declined to comment on pending litigation.
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