The head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources is pledging a new era of community input.
“Part of my job is to drag DAR into the modern day,” Frazer McGilvray told members of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council on Thursday night. “Engaging communities and giving them a voice is certainly a part of that.”
McGilvray, who took the helm at DAR seven months ago, said social science is as important as biological science when decisions are made about how to manage a resource. McGilvray also raised the possibility of noncommercial fishing licenses and the need for better information on fish stocks.
“I’m in favor of community-based management. I think it’s important to engage the people whose livelihoods depend on the resource,” said McGilvray, who has worked around the globe in a variety of nonprofit and for-profit ventures related to fisheries.
McGilvray’s often animated discussions drew laughter — and at the end, applause — from a council that has worked for years to increase the community’s stake in management of West Hawaii fisheries.
“Science cannot capture a cultural measure, or a sense of connection to a place,” council member and Honaunau resident Charles Young told McGilvray. “Community involvement is vital, especially in Hawaii.”
McGilvray said that when he took over at DAR — his first foray into government — he called everyone into the same room. Staff spent several days discussing how things had been done in the past, he said.
“I walked into 1978, and it wasn’t just the brown curtains,” McGilvray said to laughter. “The structure of the division was horrible. It was set on a very old system of management.”
McGilvray said he went on to ask more than 170 stakeholders how the division was functioning and what needed to be changed.
“We’re in the final throes of figuring that out,” he said.
“There are some areas where we really do well, but the division as a whole is constantly playing catch-up,” he said.
McGilvray said it’s also important to gather information from as many sources as possible about the health of the fisheries.
“We have no idea — only anecdotal figures — about how many fish are coming out of the water,” he said. “How can we manage our fisheries without this information? We just can’t.”
Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, asked how soon the division could implement community-based management. McGilvray said that wasn’t yet clear.
“We know the government has to play a part. We know the community has to play a part,” he said. “We’re still trying to find that sweet spot. It has to be what the community wants.”
The division is also talking about the possibility of implementing a noncommercial fishing license and is considering how subsistence fishers, in-state residents, out-of-state fishers and other users would fit into a licensing program, he said.
“Hawaii is the only state that gives away its fish for free,” McGilvray said.
Council member Chad Wiggins asked McGilvray if he saw a potential to bridge gaps between groups within the DLNR. McGilvray said he and Lisa Hadway, head of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, have talked about the need to increase collaboration across divisions.
“Most of the divisions don’t talk to each other. It’s amazing,” McGilvray said. “When it rains upcountry, it all runs down. So if you have problems with the forest, it all runs down to the reef. These agencies have to work together. One department can’t solve all these issues.”
“Change has to come to link land and and water.”