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Legislature ponders study for noncommercial fishing permits

March 18, 2014 - 8:49am

Decision making was deferred Monday for a measure that would allow the state to study implementing noncommercial fishing permits.

The Senate’s Water and Land Committee deferred the measure, said a staff member in Sen. Malama Solomon’s office. Solomon, D-North Hawaii, is the committee chairwoman. The committee is set to vote on the measure Wednesday afternoon.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, said Friday several Big Island legislators co-authored the original version of House Bill 1911, which called for a narrower scope for noncommercial permits.

“It was supposed to be for tourists,” Lowen said last week.

During one of its House committee hearings, it was changed to a task force to look at permits for all noncommercial fishermen.

“It’s sensitive subject,” Lowen said.

Lowen ultimately voted in favor of moving the bill ahead, but did so with reservations, as did Hilo Rep. Richard Onishi. Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, was a co-introducer of the bill, but voted against forwarding it to the Senate after the changes were made.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila submitted written testimony twice supporting studying the feasiblity for fees for all noncommercial fishing.

“The Department presently requires commercial marine licenses for all commercial fishing,” Aila’s testimony said. “The program works. There is no equivalent for noncommercial fishing. Accurate data is critical in assessing the health and managing Hawaii’s fishing stocks. Data gathering for noncommercial fishing is voluntary, less reliable, and fails to provide the information needed to make informed decisions. This study will evaluate how a noncommercial licensing program could work. It is long overdue.”

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs urged caution when legislators first considered the bill, in its original form. The office’s testimony before a Jan. 31 hearing acknowledged that fishing permits have the potential to generate revenues that the DLNR could use to better manage the state’s aquatic resources, as well as provide information about the number of visitors who go fishing.

A problem, OHA said, could arise when Native Hawaiians who no longer live in Hawaii come to visit.

“Both the United States Congress and the State legislature have also recognized that the health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to these lands; engaging in the timeless, place-based, and culturally-grounded activity of fishing may be an important means of maintaining such an attachment,” their testimony said.

Right now, commercial fishing licenses are required for anyone who will be selling fish they catch in Hawaii’s waters. That requirement extends to charter fishing boats, according to the DLNR’s rules, but fishermen said the rule hasn’t required a permit for every individual angler, just one permit to cover the boat, sometimes held in the captain’s name.