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Mo’omomi CBSFA Gets Support in Public Hearing

Mo’omomi coastline. Photo by Caterine Cluett Pactol

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Decades of resource management, data collection, traditional knowledge, legislation and public hearings culminated last week in one of the final steps of the process to designate Mo’omomi as a state-recognized Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area (CBSFA).

A virtual public hearing, held by the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources and lasting more than four hours last Wednesday, yielded a major of testimony in favor of the CBSFA, though written testimony that was submitted — during a period which closed Aug. 26 — was not available to the public online.

The proposed CBSFA, which would allow community co-management of resources, runs along Molokai’s northwest coastline from Ilio Point to Nihoa Flats, extending one mile out from the shoreline. The rules would establish new bag limits, size limits, seasonal closures and gear restrictions for certain vulnerable species. It would also prohibit most commercial fishing as well as night diving and SCUBA spearfishing.

The proposal has a long history in the Molokai community began in 1993, when the Governor’s Molokai Subsistence Task Force report proved what many Molokai residents already knew: subsistence is a vital sector of both Molokai’s economy and culture.

“I have been involved from the very inception when the community based subsistence fishing law was adopted in 1994,” Molokai resident and UH law professor Malia Akutagawa said in her testimony. “In our [subsistence] study, we discovered that 28 percent of the average Molokai family’s diet was from subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering. For Native Hawaiian families — which is the majority of families on Molokai, about 65 percent… 38 percent of our foods came from subsistence. Our seafood intake was 10 times greater than the average Oahu household.”

Ho’olehua homesteaders “whose icebox is Mo’omomi, stated that they saw a decline in certain numbers of fish… so they urged us to move forward with proposing this community based subsistence fishing law,” she added.

In 1994, CBSFA legislation passed that authorized DLNR to designate CBSFAs to reaffirm and protect traditional fishing practices for Native Hawaiians. It also established a two-year subsistence fishing pilot project on the northwest coastline of Molokai.

Homesteader Kekama Helm said he was part of that pilot project, and saw increases in fish even in such a short time. “So I know it works,” he said during his testimony.

Community outreach meetings were held starting in 2014, with the official scoping process being launched with two Molokai meetings in 2017, followed with additional discussions.

DLNR already has jurisdiction in nearshore waters of Hawaii, so proponents of the designation point out that additional enforcement jurisdiction isn’t involved.

If finalized, the rules can only be enforced by DLNR officers. There can be no voluntary community enforcement, though community volunteers can be trained to observe and report resource violations to state enforcement officers, according to the proposal.

The designation has no effect on coastal access, and state lands along the coastline remain free and open to all, though on areas that are private property, the state cannot dictate who is granted access, according to DLNR.

The proposed daily bag limits on these vulnerable species include 20 kole, two kumu, two uhu paukaluka/ahuʻula, and two lobsters, with a complete rest on uhu uliuli.

Fourth generation homesteader Hala Pakala said like a majority of Molokai residents, she grew up in a subsistence lifestyle.

“In order for our subsistence lifestyle to be sustainable, we need resource management,” she testified. “I feel the proposed limits proposed by CBSFA are good limits — 20 kole a day per person is more than enough to feed your family.”

Supporter Keani Rawlins-Fernandez pointed out that when a specific species recovers, the bag limits could be lifted.

“This style of adaptive management is also part of our tradition to promote abundance,” she said.

The rules are based on generations of traditional fishing practices and the kapu system to protect resources, substantiated in recent decades by studies and data collected in an effort led by homesteader and lawai’a Mac Poepoe.

“Kapu or regulations are necessary in every society,” said Poepoe, “To not have regulations is not very akamai. We leave ourselves open for exploitation and disaster. [This is] our chance to be part of this process, to not be overlooked.”

Testifier Justin Laufalemana urged a change in mindset when it comes to conservation.

“In my 36 years of life here on Molokai, I am guilty of taking more than I should have, from opi’i to lobsters to hihiwai, and I’m here to make a change, to shape my mind differently for the future, for our kids, for the Molokai community,” he said. “I ask all the Molokai community — I love you all, those that support and don’t support… we gotta make a change, we gotta shape our mindset differently…. We gotta start now [or] it’s gonna be too late. It’s not our given right just to go and gather, it’s more about kuleana, responsibility, to take care of what we have and what we can save for the future.…”

Though the designation was community-proposed, not everyone is on board.

“There are many subsistence homesteaders that are adamantly against this and a lot of it has to do with how the initial project was run and managed,” said homesteader Aaron Boswell in his testimony, also objecting to the fact that input was opened up to the whole state to testify about Mo’omomi’s rules. “It’s sounding like we as locals don’t already practice subsistence fishing here today, when this is absolutely not true…. I don’t have a problem with rules, I have a problem that the proposal does not represent the majority of subsistence fishers from this area.”

Some say the regulations aren’t needed.

“The state already has limits,” resident Godfrey Akaka Jr. told Hawaii News Now. “We know that it’s not being depleted. We’re basically giving up our native gathering rights and turning it over to the state and allowing them to manage.”

Other testifiers noted the dissension within the community that the issue has caused between those who are for and against the proposal.

“I have seen these community meetings that have involved yelling and name calling,” said Jarron Boswell, a sixth generation homesteader. “It would be my desire to hear this community heal first before any of this process moves forward. You guys talk about the next generation but all we will be left with is resentment and hurt feelings.”

“I would like to extend an invitation to anyone who opposes this proposal, come join us, whether it is data collection, beach cleanups or planning on how we can work together to improve relations in our community, between our people and our ‘aina,” said Poepoe in his testimony.

DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources will review all testimony and may recommend changes. The decision is guided by statutes and policies, according to the department’s website. The Board of Land and Natural Resources will make the final decision on whether or not to adopt the CBSFA designation.

To read the full draft rules, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/dar/files/2020/02/HAR-13-60.9dr.pdf.

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