State consider more rules to protect Hawaii’s fish population

There are growing concerns over fishing in Hawaii. The State Department of Land and Natural Resources, in the first such investigation of its kind, continues to probe an alleged confrontation that occurred recently on waters off east Molokai.

The state says the face-off involved residents from that island and fishermen from Oahu and stems from a long-running battle between those who live on Molokai and people from off-island who come to Molokai to fish and hunt.

While the investigation continues, the state is moving to protect and enhance the depleting fish population in island waters. One approach calls for a community-based management plan. The other actually reaches back to Hawaii’s ancient past – a system referred to as the Aha Moku.

A team with the University of Hawaii’s Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory has tracked the fish population in Hawaii waters over the past 100 years. Researchers say populations of certain kinds of fish have dropped by as much as 90 percent.

“Things like moi, kumu, some of the prized fish, even uluas, have declined dramatically, especially around Oahu and Maui where there a lot of people,” said Dr. Alan Friedlander, director of the laboratory,

The trouble comes when those in search of fish run up against people who rely heavily on the ocean to feed their families.

“That’s why people are coming to Molokai, because their resources are depleted on their island so they are coming to Molokai where we’ve been working really hard to follow traditional ways of managing the resource – and one of them is asking permission,” said Molokai activist Walter Ritte.

The state legislature two years ago reached back in the past and enacted a law to revive an ancient Hawaiian practice, the Aha Moku system, which ancient Hawaiians used to protect Hawaii’s environment and ecosystem. The system actually relies on counsel and advice from kupuna (elders) and practitioners of the traditional style of resource management.

“This type of moku management – there’s a bit of a renaissance, but we’re dealing with 21st century Hawaii where there are competing interests,” said Dr. Friedlander, referring to commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen and those who rely on fishing and hunting for their subsistence lifestyle. “So all of the players have to come to the table and see how we can divvy up these precious resources because there is not enough to go around.”

More rules will not sit well with Dale Robbins, a Honolulu-based fisherman and diver.

“We got rules and regulations already – you gotta get all kinds of stuff for your boat, you need a permit to fish,” said Robbins, but “everybody’s got to try to get along. We’re an Aloha State.”

DLNR says besides listening to counsel from elders and native Hawaiian practitioners who are members of the Aha Moku, the agency is also moving on so-called community based management plans.

The first such plan to be be implemented will target the waters north of Kauai near Haena. The department hopes to hold a public hearing on rules for that plan in a couple of months.

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