Fish return to Keehi Lagoon after molasses spill, fine still pending

Nine months after hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses spilled into the ocean, the state has yet to determine what type of fines Matson will have to pay.

Last September, an old pipe Matson used to pump molasses into container ships broke, dumping 223,000 gallons of it into Honolulu Harbor.

Thousands of marine life within the harbor and Keehi Lagoon suffocated.

Boaters and fishermen were some of the first to notice the devastation from that molasses spill.

It was a marine catastrophe that is well ingrained in boater Russ Singer’s memory. “I was taking out about a five-gallon bucket of dead fish every hour for like two days,” he said.

But in the past three months, Singer said all types of fish have been thriving at the harbor and by the reef where the spill occurred. It’s a sight that he wasn’t sure would ever come back.

“I’m under the impression that the stocks of fish have returned to probably pre-molasses spill levels,” Singer said. “I would say it’s probably back to normal levels.”

Dept. of Land and Natural Resources chair William Aila has heard similar stories from other fishermen.

But a true assessment from the state is yet to come. Right now, the state is still trying to determine how much Matson will have to pay.

“The process is we figure out what the value is for the animals that were impacted by the spill and then we approach Matson with our assessment,” Aila explained. “They’re going to provide a counter assessment and then we’ll see if we can come to an agreement.”

Aila said the state is still about six months away from coming up with a dollar amount and meeting with Matson. He said the baseline research has been done, but assessing the value of Hawaii marine life is a complex process.

“This is not science that’s regularly off the shelf that you can pull,” he said. “Hawaii is very unique so our animals are very unique to us.”

Whenever those fines are imposed and whatever they may be, Singer just hopes that at least some of that money goes into improving the conditions at Keehi Lagoon.

“Let’s take this tragedy and make it into something good,” he said. “What can we do to make it better for the tourists and for the local folks to enjoy?”

Aila says the fine is something both the state and Matson have to agree on. If not, then the state will have a to file a lawsuit, which could take well beyond six months.

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