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West Hawaii fishermen sound off on proposed hike of commercial fishing license fee

Updated: 
October 5, 2017 - 10:19am

Corrections: The meeting took place Tuesday evening, not Wednesday evening as previously noted in this story. It is the policy of WHT to promptly correct all incorrect information as soon as it is brought to the attention of the paper.

KAILUA-KONA — A small but vocal group of commercial fishermen from West Hawaii voiced their opinions Tuesday night on a proposed amendment to Hawaii Administrative Rules that would hike the annual fee for commercial fishing licenses from $50 to $150, while requiring fishermen to provide more extensive reporting on marine life.

Representatives of the Department of Land and Natural Resources held the public hearing at Honokohau Harbor Big Game Fishing Clubhouse to provide fishermen an opportunity to speak on the proposal, as well as to float a revision that would change the structure of the fee increase.

“(A fee of) $50 has been silly. I don’t have any problem whatsoever with the increase in fees, $150 is still very reasonable for a commercial license,” said aquarium collector Jim Lovell. “My only question is why are we talking about going to $100 then $150 in January? We might as well just go right to the $150.”

The revision to the proposed rule change addresses Lovell’s question directly and would employ his suggestion. Instead of jumping incrementally from $50 to $100 and finally to $150 by Jan. 1, 2018, as originally planned, the new structure would triple the rate as soon as the rule change is approved.

Only six West Hawaii fishermen showed up to the meeting Tuesday. There are several hundred who hold commercial fishing licenses, which indicates the $100 fee increase hasn’t rocked too many boats.

“We haven’t had that many complaints because it hasn’t gotten a lot of negative publicity,” said West Hawaii Aquatic Biologist and meeting moderator Dr. Bill Walsh, who works with the Division of Aquatic Resources under the umbrella of the DLNR. “It’s a relatively small amount of money if you’re a commercial fisherman.”

He added, however, that there were legitimate critiques raised Wednesday evening. One grievance in particular involved a tiered fee structure.

“There are long-line fisherman on Oahu selling more than $1 million of fish a year,” Walsh said. “Then you’ve got guys selling $200 of fish a year and they’re both paying the same.”

The DLNR hasn’t raised licensing fees for nearly 20 years, and officials have said increased revenues from the fee hike would go toward maintaining the licensing system and improving services and resources to commercial fishermen across the state.

Some fishermen in attendance Tuesday questioned just how much services would practically improve, noting how far behind some of the services currently remain.

Namely, they complained about the annual catch data for specific species the DAR catalogues on its website. The most recent available data is from 2014, a year before one of the worst coral bleaching events in history that decimated several marine habitats.

Some also noted the fee increase might drive some fishermen from compliance, increasing the number of recreational fishermen who do cash deals with restaurants and drive down prices, which they said is already happening frequently.

“Who knows how many people are going to actually pay $150?” asked commercial fisherman Nathan Abe.

While most didn’t directly describe the $100 increase as onerous, commercial fisherman Scott Davidson gave voice to that perspective.

“We work very hard. We work for peanuts to put our product on the table,” he said. “If you want to keep jacking our rates up, we can’t compete anywhere.”

Those who were unable to attend the public hearings but want to offer comment may do so by mailing written testimony to the DAR at 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813. All testimony must be received by Friday, Oct. 13.

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