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Legislature considers new fish task force

Updated: 
March 13, 2014 - 8:45am

Several measures that critics say are thinly veiled attempts to undo West Hawaii’s scuba spearfishing ban are advancing through the state Legislature.

House Concurrent Resolution 65 passed out of the Ocean Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee on a unanimous affirmative vote. Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, chairs the committee and cosponsored the bill, which calls for a statewide, appointed task force to consider fishery rules.

Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, South Kohala, cast her aye vote with reservations. In a voice message left Wednesday afternoon, she said she was concerned about the task force being asked to help the Department of Land and Natural Resources draft fishing rules.

If the problem is concerns about how DLNR makes its rules, the task force should look at that, “maybe an audit, make sure they do public hearings properly,” Evans said, adding groups are already in place to create fishing rules.

Her West Hawaii counterpart, Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, said she also has some concerns about the task force. West Hawaii, with its existing fishery council, is “an example for the rest of the state. There has to be a way to not have these one-size-fits-all rules.”

She said she did vote in committee to keep the resolution alive, but said she isn’t sure a Legislature-created task force is the right body to be examining how DLNR creates rules.

Tina Owens, of the LOST FISH Coalition, called for Hawaii Island residents to testify against the resolution, as well as House Bill 709, which originally applied only to Niihau, now also calls for a statewide fishing rules task force. The measures allow the governor, speaker of the House, the Senate president and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to appoint task force members.

“Everybody on Oahu would have a say” in neighbor islands’ fishing rules, Owens said, adding the task force would effectively undo Act 306, which created the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.

Owens offered more criticism in her testimony submitted in opposition to HCR 65.

“Going back to the old way of having to have all fisheries regulations applied evenly throughout the state is in direct opposition to old Hawaiian practices and recent trends in community based marine management efforts,” she wrote. “It adds another layer of government involvement by people who know nothing about the subject. Members would be political appointees with no scientists or marine managers on the task force. This opens the door wide for influence peddlers and corruption.”

Opposition wasn’t just from Hawaii Island. Kevin Chang, of Honolulu-based Kuaaina Ulu Auamo, agreed in his testimony.

The organization “opposes HCR 65 because it would establish a small, politically appointed task force to work with DLNR to develop rules that will affect many of the communities we work with,” Chang said in written testimony. “Moreover it will do so without the direct benefit of their unique knowledge of the resources, people, or traditions of their place. … A centralized and politically appointed task force should not take precedence over generations of place based knowledge, history, and many years of hard work by the families and community members committed to restoring abundance for future generations.”

Hawaii Island resident Philip Fernandez wrote in to support the resolution.

“Ocean resources are important for all the residents of Hawaii and deserves to have a high level, statewide task force to review policies and plans,” he said. “Consultation of Native Hawaiian practices as well as empirical and scientific data is critical in the development of ocean resource management policies and regulations.”

Scientific data was a point of contention in the recent fight to implement a scuba spearfishing ban in West Hawaii. The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a West Hawaii fisheries rules package that included that ban, over DLNR Chairman William Aila’s objections.

Aila tried, last week, to find a way to undo that ban. He requested $250,000 in his supplemental budget to fund a two-year study of the impacts scuba spearfishing has had on fish populations in West Hawaii. He affected a joking demeanor during a House Finance Committee hearing Wednesday when Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, asked him to explain the logic behind requesting the study after the ban had been enacted.

“That would be impossible, to explain the logic,” Aila said, smiling. “Contrary to my best effort, the vote went the other way.”

He reiterated his concerns that the scientific studies proponents of the ban used to convince the board were not relevant to West Hawaii waters.

“I’m not convinced that West Hawaii is like the rest of the world,” Aila said.

The Finance Committee did not include funding to study scuba spearfishing impacts in the budget it passed, Lowen said. They did authorize $50,000 to study the impacts of spearfishing in general, she added.

Owens said she wasn’t surprised to hear Aila was trying to fund his own study on the subject.

“The thing that he wants is his science, the one that proves what he wants,” she said. “It’s like saying gravity works everywhere but here.”