Fishing for Answers
Community discusses amendments to fisheries regulations
By Catherine Cluett
Marine life is one of Hawaii’s most treasured resources. With Molokai’s dependence on subsistence living, preservation of resources like the island’s fisheries becomes all the more vital to every day life. But many have noticed a decline in the quality and quantity of marine resources around the state, and it’s a complaint the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is trying to solve by talking to communities throughout the Hawaiian Islands and soliciting their input in a proposal to amend existing fishing regulations.
Bill Puleloa, an aquatic biologist with DLNR, visited the Governor’s Molokai Community Advisory Council last week to get some answers from Molokai residents about how to best manage, conserve and restore the island’s marine resources.
“Because of comments made by groups around the state, the DLNR is obligated to address the concern,” says Puleloa. But in his opinion, the decrease in fish isn’t substantiated sufficiently by quantifiable data. In addition, he adds, every concerned party emphasizes information for their own interest, and reports may be skewed by such factors as commercial fishing reports.
There are three management tools and DLNR is proposing to amend. The first is minimum size. Puleloa points out that raising the minimum size of a fish tends to shift fishing efforts to larger fish of that species. “L50” is the length at which half of the individuals in a given species become able to reproduce. Omilu, for example, first reproduce at 12 inches, producing about 50,000 eggs per year at that length. At 27 inches, however, omilu can produce about 4 million eggs per year. So, Puleloa, points out, it might be actually more productive for the species to catch smaller fish.
A second management tool is bag limits. Currently bag limits are imposed on certain species, but Puleloa fears that lowering the limit and adding a limit on species that don’t currently exist might actually make fishermen feel compelled to “limit out,” taking more than they need.
Closed season is the third type of regulation the DLNR is proposing to amend. This would ban fishing of species during certain seasons, based on their spawning periods.
Native gathering rights continue to challenge lawmakers. William Kaholoaa Sr. expressed concern about how bag limits would be regulated if one fisherman per family collects for the whole ohana.
Two bills, one introduced to the House of Representatives and one to the Senate, could offer a solution for Molokai’s fisheries dilemma. If passed, the bills would establish a community-based subsistence fishing area around Molokai to help protect the fish stocks and coral reef habitats. It would place the responsibility with the Molokai people, arguing there has been negligence by state agencies.
Because these bills are still awaiting resolution, the group decided to withhold comment on the proposed DLNR regulation amendments until after the bills’ outcomes are clear. After that, the community will meet again to discuss further action.