Molokai confrontation highlights battle between residents and divers

The state Dept. of Land and Natural Resources is investigating a confrontation that turned ugly between Molokai residents and a group of Honolulu divers.

The state said the incident apparently stems from a long-running dispute between residents and outsiders who come to fish and hunt at the island.

Enforcement officers are taking the lead in the investigation, and while details of the incident cannot be shared yet, the department’s chair told KHON2 it involved people from Molokai and recreational deep sea divers who came over on a boat from Oahu to fish.

The incident occurred of east of Molokai about two weeks ago.

“An altercation took place, some fishing equipment was damaged, a person was either shoved or fell overboard,” said William Aila, DLNR chair and director. ” At that point, the two parties separated themselves.”

Aila said once the investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the Maui prosecutor’s office to determine the next steps.

Aila added that “because this occurred on two boats, after the report is completed, we would forward it to the U.S. Coast Guard for their consideration of any federal laws that may have been violated.”

People on Molokai said many outsiders do not seem to understand that this is an island where close to 40 percent of the people rely heavily on farming, fishing and hunting.

“It’s like going into somebody’s store, going into somebody’s ice box and just taking food without asking permission,” said Molokai activist Walter Ritte. “That’s how valuable these resources are. They are not just for recreation, they’re for survival.”

Both Aila and Ritte said people should respect each other on the water, and the department and the people of Molokai are working on a community-based plan that would protect, preserve and better manage the resources on Molokai both on and off the water.

“We can’t be using violence. That just leads to more violence,” said Ritte. “That’s not the way to solve problems. It’s never been the right way.”

Aila said his enforcement officers will also look to see if any state rules were violated.

He said they will look to see if fish were illegally taken by the divers from Honolulu, or if any of the boats were improperly registered.

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