Protecting Molokai’s Sea

Bill puts shoreline and near shore fishery protection in the hands of Molokai’s people.
By Sean Aronson

Read the Bill – Here.

Molokai seems to attract independent people and the island has a reputation for standing on its own. Now, if a new fisheries bill passes, independence is exactly what Molokai will have.

‘Molokai’s Fisheries Bill’ was introduced in the House by Mele Carroll and in the Senate by Kalani English.  It has passed the first reading in both and will be headed for hearings if all goes well.  As of this writing, 14 different Senators have signed on to the introduction of the bill.

The act establishes 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.

“Lack of meaningful stewardship threatens to cause irreparable harm to the cultural, social and economic well-being of the island,” states the bill.

According to Molokai resident Steve Morgan, who encouraged Sen. English to introduce the bill and also helped draft the bill, “The Molokai Fisheries bill is a landmark bill as it marks the first time that an entire island has requested that all of its surrounding waters be protected and managed entirely by the island community.”

The significance of the bill is heightened by Molokai’s continued reliance on the land and water as a food source. According to informal surveys, more than a third of Molokai residents rely on some form of subsistence for their food supply.  Fishing is the most significant source for most. But there just are not enough fish to feed the demand, says Morgan.

“The State has not done an adequate job in regard to the management of Molokai’s ocean resources and the results are devastating,” says Morgan. “Recognizing cultural resource management practices in acknowledgment with the Aha Kiole/ Aha Moku, these trends can be reversed.

One factor for the decrease in the abundance and diversity of the fishing on Molokai is the poor agricultural practices on the land.  This creates erosion and ultimately leads to a build-up of sediment on the reef, thus affecting the habitat of the near shore fish.

But if preventative measures are taken, as is the case with Mo`omomi, a protected area on Molokai's north shore, then fish stocks do replenish.  There, stewardship of the land and near shore waters is primarily the responsibility of Molokai residents.  Those who care for it also benefit from the fishing and Mo`omomi is a model that can be repeated throughout the island, according to Sen. English.

While Mo`omomi has several people dedicated to maintaining its rejuvenated habitat, the real challenge will be finding Molokai residents for the entire island area, if the bill passes.  Some of the older generation is training the younger in the traditional ways of habitat management for exactly that purpose.

“We need to step up and do this on our own,” says Mo`omomi resource manager Mac Poepoe. “We can’t sit around and wait for the government.”

Poepoe’s success at Mo`omomi is garnering attention, with Sen. English acknowledging the work as a definite inspiration for the island-wide bill.  Poepoe is also travelling to Australia in the next month to share his knowledge with indigenous people there.

The fisheries act would give oversight powers to Molokai residents, in conjunction with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), to regulate nearly all activity in Hawaii state waters around Molokai.  The regulated activities would include, but are not limited to, commercial fishing, S.C.U.B.A. diving and whale watching tours.

The bill also includes provisions for the DLNR to consider limiting the harvest of certain fishes as they, and community members, see fit.

To stay up to date on the Fisheries Bill: In the senate SB-1199 or HB-670 in the House.

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