Hawaiians used to produce millions of pounds of fish in their ponds, says Jack Kittinger, director of the Hawaii Fish Trust.
“When they were functional, they were absolutely the fish bank,” Kittinger said.
A vote by the Board of Land and Natural Resources allows the state to move one step closer to returning to those traditional practices that sustained Hawaii’s original residents, Kittinger said Friday. The board approved a request for a master conservation district use permit, a broad permit to allow people seeking to restore fishponds using traditional methods to have to only apply for one permit.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must also issue a similar programmatic permit before the process is completed, Department of Land and Natural Resources officials said in a press release.
Until DLNR, particularly staff planner Michael Cain and Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator Sam Lemmo, agreed to spearhead efforts to streamline permitting, Kittinger said people looking to start such fishpond restoration projects had 17 regulations to comply with.
“This removes a significant policy barrier that really was slowing down restoration,” he said. “It’s going to catalyze fishpond restoration across the state.”
The process will become simple, so long as restoration planners aren’t intending to use heavy equipment or a significant amount of dredging and filling, Kittinger said.
An indirect result of the change may mean more funding directed toward fishpond restoration, he added. He said he definitely expects to see more projects getting started.
Lemmo said he knew of only one project, in Kihei, Maui, that successfully navigated the “permit gauntlet” of multiple state and federal agencies to do a restoration project.
It made sense for his office to take the lead on coordinating with different agencies to streamline the process, he said, because most of the permit applications would have to come through his division at some point for approval.
Kittinger said Lemmo and Cain were “absolute heroes” for following through with the many groups involved in changing the permitting process.
Cain credited a new approach for the department’s success, where previous efforts to fix the process have failed.
“In the past, the effort began with granting only a small number of ponds the opportunity to participate, so very few communities benefited,” Cain said in a written statement. “This time, we began with the presumption that community restoration efforts and cultural practices are good for Hawaii and its environment, so we cast the net as wide as possible, hoping to encourage communities to get involved in conservation. As long as a pond and its activities fit into the framework we developed, it is eligible to apply to this program.”
Hawaii Fish Trust, which is part of Conservation International, helped fund the program. Honua Consulting also worked on the project.
Lemmo said he was confident the Corps would issue its programmatic permit.
“We have worked closely with the Corps on this effort from the start,” he said in a written statement. “I am confident that the federal agencies involved appreciate as much as we do that this is an opportunity to highlight how state and federal agencies can effectively serve communities when they cooperate.”