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Fishpond Bill in Jeopardy

Lingle threatens veto of protection legislation.

After feeding Hawaii for centuries, the future of many of the state’s ancient fishponds rest in the governor’s hands.

Last week, Gov. Linda Lingle issued her intent to veto a bill that would prevent the sale of state-owned fishponds. House bill 1665 was passed unanimously by the state Senate and House in April.

In the last 50 years, developers have bought up many fishponds in southeast Oahu. Chris Cramer is the president of Maunalua Fishpond Heritage Center, which works to restore fishponds there. He worries the first causalities of the bill’s veto would be some of area’s remaining ponds, which could be auctioned off.

Cramer warned these are not the only ponds at stake.

“We realize that this is statewide issues – if they can sell off fishponds on Oahu, they can sell them off on Molokai or wherever,” he said. “We definitely need to have protections in place.”

Noelani Yamashita said she is disappointed in the governor’s decision. Yamashita is the executive director of the Molokai nonprofit Ka Honua Momona, which works to restore  both Kaloko`eli and Ali`i ponds west of Kaunakakai.

“Fishponds are not only a magnificent example of our ancestors’ skill, intelligence and community spirit, but they remain today as food producers for our people,” Yamashita said.

Molokai’s sixty-plus remaining fishponds are a mix of state-owned and privately-owned and span the length of the southern shore.

“It’s like if the pyramids were up for sale – I don’t think those kinds of things should be sold,” Yamashita added.

In explaining the veto, Lingle’s office said in a release that that the bill “inadvertently results in the Department of Transportation [DOT] caring for fish ponds that were intended to be made available to other organizations after being acquired as part of the Kalanianaole Highway widening project” on east Oahu.

But Cramer rejects this reasoning, pointing out that the bill does not bar the government from transferring management from the DOT to another agency like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “There’s no language at all that prohibits a transfer,” Cramer said.

Lingle has until July 6 to issue a veto. The intent to veto issued last week does not guarantee a veto, meaning she may still sign the bill.

If she does veto, the legislature could override it and the bill would become law. Cramer is urging residents to call their legislators and tell them to do so. 

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