Molokai fishermen defiant after deep sea fishing ban announcement

Bottomfish closure to take affect May 15

“You’re taking away my livelihood. It’s completely unfair that we’re given this little advanced warning” asks fisherman Kenny Corder (left) at WesPac’s (Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council) public meeting on April 24. “Now I’m going have to fish at night to avoid getting caught, and I don’t want to fish at night” says Corder with typical Molokai humor in a serious situation, “nighttime’s when I like to sleep.”

After federal scientists in Hawaii determined that the current catch rates of bottom fish are too high to be sustainable, WesPac determined that a pre-emptive measure was necessary to keep bottom fish stocks from deteriorating into an “over-fished” situation, which would likely necessitate even more severe measures than the 4 1/2 month ban. The closure will last from May 15 until September 30 of this year.

Though the decision was announced on March 16, there was no way of guaranteeing that Hawaiian fisherman on all the islands would be aware of the ban or what it entails. To ensure clearer public comprehension, WesPac organized 6 public meetings- one on each Hawaiian island, with an extra meeting on Big Island- the last of which was held on Molokai.

Molokai’s fishermen are upset over the short notice – the ban was initially supposed to go into effect on May 1, one week after the meeting on Molokai. Also upsetting was the fact that the ban will not apply to fishermen on the northwest Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Niihau, where a system of no-fish zones instead exists. “I don’t see why they’re allowed to keep fishing,” said one Molokai fisherman at the public meeting. “It’s all one big eco-system; there shouldn’t be any exceptions.”

Others believe the ‘emergency closure’ does not adequately address the economic impact on fishermen who were given very little time to come up with their own respective contingency plans. “The warning you’re giving us isn’t enough,” says Conrad Aquino, “I bought all the gas I would need, and bought new boat engines, all before this announcement.”

Aquino was one of several fishermen who were concerned over how the ban might affect Native Hawaiian fishing rights. “Right now I think the future of the Hawaiian fisherman is bleak,” laments the soft-spoken Aquino, who says he is normally reticent to speak in public but felt the issue deserved some of his mana`o. “Mostly, I worry about the kids. Whenever I take kids out on my boat- we’ll sometimes fish for 14 hours straight and only make $150 or so, but the kids still love fishing. I hope they’ll be able to do what they love. I hope we (Hawaiians) haven’t lost our rights.”

Keli`i Mawae, Molokai’s unofficial mayor, was moved by the Hawaiian fishermen’s frustration on display at the meeting. “I think you folks (WesPac officials) do Molokai wrong, and I think you do Hawaii wrong.”

WesPac has come under fire often of late for appearing to be aligned with commercial interests, something which appears to have bred mistrust in the Molokai community. The regulatory body has also been heavily scrutinized by the Hawaiian and pacific mainland press for its alleged lobbying at the Hawaiian state legislature, and because Executive Director Rose B. “Kitty” Simonds is, for reasons unbeknownst to the journalistic community, the fifth highest-paid official in the entire United States government- trailing only George Bush, Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In addition to the closure, WesPac will be implementing a TAC (Total Allowable Catch, amount of which has yet to be determined) aggregate ceiling for Hawaiian commercial fishermen starting in October, and all fishermen will also be required to possess a state or federal permit if even possessing bottom fish .

The impending 4½ month ban on bottom fish covers 7 species of snappers and groupers- onaga, ehu, gindai, kalekale, opakapaka, lehi, and hapu`upu`u, collectively known as the ‘deep 7’- caught within 200 miles of the Hawaiian shoreline. There will likely be a similar 4 month ban in effect in 2008; one that will be lifted on September 1 rather than at the end of September.


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