Molokai Bills Reach Senate Floor

By Molokai Dispatch Staff

Last Friday was a busy day for legislation relating to Molokai.  Four bills passed the Senate’s Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee (WLT) last Friday.  The Committee is chaired by former Molokai resident Senator Clayton Hee.

Issues as far ranging as fisheries protection and a ban on genetically modified taro were addressed by the six member committee.  Additionally, many Molokai residents offered testimony on the various bills.

The bills will be up for senate approval in the coming weeks.

Fisheries

Bill SB1199, which would designate the waters around Molokai as a community-based subsistence fishing area, passed out the Senate’s Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee (WLT) last Friday.

The main action on this bill came from testimony by the Aha Kiole Advisory Committee (AKAC), which was created in 2007 to form a body of best practices based upon the indigenous resource management practices of traditional moku (regional) boundaries of the State of Hawaii.

The AKAC wanted to include a provision in the bill to make sure they have authority to manage the fishing in conjunction with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

According to Aha Kiole’s testimony, “DLNR has not been effective in bolstering aquatic resources, either through policies or enforcement..”

The Aha Kiole also wanted to include Ni'ihau in the bill, as they see that island as a good place to exercise this style of fisheries management.

The testimony in opposition to the bill centered on the commercial fishing provision, which would regulate fisherman coming to Molokai from other islands. Laura Thielen, chairperson for the DLNR, expressed concern for just how much this kind of fishing would be restricted.

“The area [Molokai’s shore] has popular and productive bottom fishing and pelagic trolling grounds, the catch from which benefits many citizens of the State, including inhabitants of Molokai,” said Thielen’s testimony.

The Bill received significant support from Molokai residents. Former Molokai Planning Commission Chair DeGray Vanderbilt echoed support for the bill.

“SB1199 is consistent with the goals and objectives of our Molokai Community Plan, which is law,” he said.  “Of the nine community plans in Maui County, Molokai’s plan is the only one with a subsistence section.”

The Bill passed the committee with amendments.

Reefs
Senate Resolution 26, is a resolution in support of the USGS Reef Study for Molokai’s South Shore.  It expresses the immense resource the reef is for providing fish, which in turn allows subsistence living on Molokai.  The reef is threatened by erosion and this resolution seeks to acknowledge its importance to the people and the need to protect it for the future.

Taro
Senate Bill 709 prohibits the development, testing, propagation, release, importation, planting, or growing of genetically modified taro in the State of Hawaii. The bill identifies kalo as environmentally, socially, spiritually and culturally significant to not only native Hawaiians but also to the state. Many taro farmers gave testimonies in favor of the bill, including Molokai residents. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and other organizations that foster Hawaiian culture also offered support of the bill.

Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Board of Agriculture, among other departments and individuals, did not support the bill. Their reasons included the precedent this would place on all genetically modified plants and taro’s risk from invasive species and other threats to kalo that they argue might be prevented through genetic modification.

The bill passed through the WLT committee with amendments.

MIS
House Bill 633 addresses the Molokai Irrigation System Water Users Advisory Board, requiring that the group have at least four members be Hawaiian homestead farmers. Glenn Teves, a Homestead farmer and MIS user who gave testimony in favor of the bill, said the question is “If the Hawaiian Homestead farmers have 2/3’s right to the water from the MIS, shouldn’t they have 2/3’s of the seats?”

The bill received the support of many Molokai Homestead farmers.

Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chair of the Board of Agriculture, stated in her testimony that the Department of Agriculture “acknowledges the merit to increase homestead representation, but believes this proposed bill is not the best manner to proceed.”

“We differ on the requirement that at least four of the board members be
homesteader farmers,” Kunimoto stated. She proposed amendments to the bill. “We believe that the four organizations currently designating representatives to the Board should continue to do so in the manner they choose.” Those organizations are the Molokai County Farm Bureau, Hikiola Cooperative, Inc., Molokai-Lanai Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The proposed amendment also required that a “kupuna Homestead Farmer user” be on the board.

Both Ray Foster of the Molokai Farm Bureau and Adolph Helm, Chair of the MISWUAB both testified in favor of the Department of Agriculture’s amendments to the bill.

The bill passed with amendments.

To read a complete version of these bills, track their progress, or read testimony pertaining to them, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/hearingnotices/HEARING_WTL_02-27-09_.HTM.

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