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Report contends state’s nearshore fisheries undervalued, undermanaged

Updated: 
September 1, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii is neglecting a “hidden economy” by significantly undervaluing its nearshore fisheries both economically and culturally, according to a recently published report.

“Follow that fish: Uncovering the hidden blue economy in coral reef fisheries” was compiled by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Conservation International, Center for Oceans. Researchers at Arizona State University also contributed to the report released in August.

The report states that because of the inherently “remote and dispersed” nature of nearshore fisheries, they have been studied more sparsely and thus are not understood as well as industrial fisheries.

According to the report, the economic benefits of nearshore fisheries around islands throughout the Pacific Ocean are often significantly underestimated. As a factor of gross domestic product, these fisheries are typically five times more valuable than their country’s recognize.

Researchers estimated the annual value of Hawaii’s nearshore fisheries at between $10.3-$16.4 million, adding they produce roughly 7.7 million meals per year.

Most noncommercial fishers who fish the nearshore waters do so specifically for sustenance, and almost a third of Hawaii’s population engage in fishing of some type.

The report also found the cultural and social impacts of fishing to be particularly relevant, as family time was a significant motivator for nearshore fishing. Researchers found that 12 percent of fishers saw the activity as a way to maintain traditional Hawaiian practices and 78 percent of “recently surveyed fishers” frequently shared the fish they caught among the community.

Researchers also found that 93 percent of fishers in Hawaii learned the practice either from family or friends, proving the cultural and economic significance of intergenerational knowledge as it pertains to nearshore fishing.

Because less is known about nearshore fisheries and they aren’t as politically valued as industrial fisheries, nearshore fisheries aren’t typically managed sustainably.

“Ensuring these benefits (of nearshore fisheries) can be supported into the future is an important consideration for sustainability,” Shanna Grafeld, research associate at NREM, told the University of Hawaii System News.

More sustainable management is crucial to the state’s food security, the report contends, because economically disadvantaged families in Hawaii are likely to rely on noncommercial nearshore fishing more heavily than the rest of the population.

The report made several recommendations on managing the “hidden economy” more effectively in the future, including by simply amassing more data.

“The non-commercial sector generates the majority of the nearshore fisheries’ value via a simple and short value chain, limiting potential management responses to focusing on catch, sharing networks, and in-home consumption,” the report reads. “A number of value chain interventions in the commercial market could enhance sustainability and economic value added, e.g., by focusing on connecting producers with distributors.”

Grafeld said attempts at more extensive management may be met with resistance from the large, heavily local nearshore fishing community but could be effective if done appropriately.

“Fishers often feel demonized when regulations fall heavily on them,” she told UH System News. “But there are options to promote sustainability at all levels in the supply chain, from helping fish dealers minimize waste and educating consumers on choosing sustainable seafood to encouraging pono fishing and a malama kai ethic.”

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