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Fishing Tensions Headed to Court

A confrontation between Oahu divers and Molokai fishermen is headed to court. The incident, in which four Molokai men are being accused of illegally boarding a vessel in state waters, came as a culmination of rising tensions between off-island fishermen known to load up on Molokai catch and island residents who depend on those resources to feed their families.

In May, the four men allegedly threatened a group of Oahu divers fishing off Molokai and were recently arrested on felony charges. Robin Dudoit, 57, Floyd Kapuni, 31, Kaiula English, 28, and Albert Dudoit Jr., 27, were arrested by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the Maui Police Department on Nov. 25 and charged with second-degree robbery, first-degree unauthorized entry into a motor vessel, first-degree terroristic threatening and harassment. All four were released after each posting a $50,000 bail.

The incident occurred on board a boat occupied by Oahu’s Dr. Daryl Wong and three other Oahu divers. Wong is a competition diver and spear-gun maker, and some Molokai residents say he has been coming to the island for years to fish.

Details of the May altercation would not be released to the Dispatch by the Maui Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, pending a court date this week.

The vessel used by the Molokai men was seized as evidence and transported to Maui with the assistance of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.

Family members of the Molokai men have started a GoFundMe page to raise money for legal representation and transportation fees for court dates.

“Overfishing, trophy fishing, and the selling of our reef fish for profit will one day lead us to depletion,” the GoFundMe page reads. “We need to raise awareness to our community that DLNR is not living up to their mission, leaving the locals no other choice.  We must be our own protectors.  Four of our well known family/community members are being punished for standing up and protecting our natural resources from those who come and take so selfishly.”

However, DLNR Chairperson William Aila said the department “will not tolerate community involvement in unlawful criminal behavior.”

“We are willing to work with any community that wants to forge a proactive partnership with DLNR to ensure public safety, access, and lawful behavior concerning the natural resources of Hawaii,” said Aila in a statement last week.

Randy Awo, the recently retired chief of the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement said officers “worked very hard to make this case.”

“…When there are people willing to come forward and there is sufficient evidence to show a criminal action is being perpetrated on citizens, we will take action,” he said.

 

Many Molokai residents say the tensions over off-island fisherman coming to Molokai to fill their coolers are nothing new and have been rising for more than a decade.

One publicized example includes fishing from escort boats at the annual Molokai to Oahu canoe races. The Molokai Hoe website now includes a request to “be pono.”

“The Molokai community has expressed concern over the amount of fish caught in the waters off Molokai by race escort boats,” states the website. “…Please discuss this matter with boat captains directly and ask that they be courteous to the local fisherman. Take only what you can eat and please be respectful to the concerns of our Molokai hosts.”

In another effort to address over-fishing, the north coastline of Molokai is in the early stages of being considered for a state-designated Community Based Subsistence Fishing Area (CBSFA). The designation would prohibit commercial harvest and “sustainably support the consumptive needs of the Mo`omomi community through culturally-rooted community-based management,” according to the draft rules. A similar designation was recently approved for Ha`ena on Kauai.

Some Molokai residents have suggested such a designation would be beneficial for other areas of the island as well.

Mo`omomi fisherman and leader Mac Poepoe, who spearheaded the Mo`omomi CBFSA, said he thinks such rules could decrease the tensions arising between off-island fishermen and Molokai subsistence gatherers.

“We feel threatened when someone comes and takes what we trying to care for… what’s really precious to us,” he said. “That was the reason to create the CBFSA because of outside [fishermen] coming in to exploit our resources. The state needs to step up and understand the reason we decide to live this way is because our natural resources. That’s the only way we live on Molokai.”

Oahu fisherman Uli Makio, interviewed by Hawaii News Now, said he understands the frustration by the Molokai residents but said the waters off Oahu are all fished out.

“It’s really frustrating, because like I said, 3-4 years ago that I came here, there was quite a lot of fish and now…” Makio told the news station, shaking his head.

The four Molokai men will face arraignment and hearings in the Maui Circuit Court on Dec. 18.

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