A solution to ‘fish collecting’ problem


This is an open letter to the public regarding “fish collectors.”

More than 18 years ago, when the Save the Fish Coalition was in its infancy, I wrote a letter that was published in the West Hawaii Today. In that letter, I called the “fish collectors” what they are in truth: thieves.

In my printed outrage, I referred to those thieves as “fish rustlers” who, in another time and another place, would be hung for their actions. Even in the past on these islands, horse and cattle rustlers were punished.

In response to that letter, I received death threats against myself, my wife and even my dog — although how my dog fit in was never quite clear. I did, however, take these threats seriously and prepared myself accordingly.

Back in those dark days, the insult of our fish disappearing for the profit of others was fresh and being shocked that not only could such a thing occur, but that it was sanctioned, many of us saw the need for action. Officials were called, meetings were held, insults were hurled, regulations were bandied about, and ultimately, of course, nothing was done. The shining banner of free enterprise, backed by selfish capitalism won again, and the rape of our ecosystem continued unabated. And now, nearly 20 years later, I open the paper to the opinion section and what do I see? I see that the debate rages — or should I say, whimpers on.

I would be pleased to use this as an example of the phrase: “some things never change,” but sadly I cannot, because they have. I believe it is safe to say that no one who has lived here for any length of time can deny the truth of the matter: There are far fewer fish in our waters, and that is a crime and a pity. It is a crime against the people of Hawaii and a pity that our children, as well as the tourists who fuel the economy of this island, are denied the joy of swimming in waters that once held thousands of brilliantly colored fish.

In no other place in this country, or the world for that matter, can an individual go onto public lands, or waters, and in quantity, steal wildlife to sell for personal gain. And please, those of you who are involved in this despicable activity — you may justify your actions in any way you want, but know in your hearts that you are reaping huge profits in the lowest and laziest of ways: stealing.

In order to keep some kind of check and balance in a world we all must share a system that has been designed where at the very least, one must purchase a license. That license allows only one reason to kill and that reason is for food.

So there is another mark against and another reason why these “collectors” should be eliminated. These “poor” folks are not fishing for sustenance as their forefathers did. No, they are driven purely for profit, and should be embarrassed by their actions.

Now, I am not foolish enough to think that this letter will be any more effective in raising the consciousness of the guilty than the one I wrote 20 years ago.

Greed will out and the past has proven the ineffectiveness of the state. I do, however, think I have come up with a simple, yet effective solution to the problem. As I recall, the issue with regulation was, and still is, manpower. How do we pay enough men in boats to patrol the big blue sea? And with what money? Well, here you are: I offer this idea at no charge in the hope that it will keep helpless fish from deportation.

Now the scenario is this: These “fish collectors” must ship the fish off island, correct? And they must do it in the easily identifiable coolers or carriers in order to keep the fish alive, yes? It is also true that they use commercial aircraft.

So how hard would it be to pass a regulation restricting how many fish each “collector” can ship out? Once this number is determined — and I’m sure that will be a battle in itself, but common sense should be our guide, and we have to start somewhere — each “collector” can apply for a license. Once they have met a reasonable set of standards involving basic safety, respect and knowledge (much like a driver’s license) each of them will receive an ID number. The beauty of this plan is that the collectors will be forced to self-regulate because they will, by law and airport checkpoints, be allowed only “x” amount of containers per month per license, with “x” number of fish in each container. No license? No ID ? Then you don’t get to ship.

All that is left to do is hire one Department of Land and Natural Resources employee for each airline’s shipping office to verify compliance. And to simplify as well as expedite matters, maybe all the paperwork could be handled by the DNLR, that way the money could go back into the parks and beaches of Hawaii.

Ah-ha! I hear you say, “How do we pay for all of this?” It’s quite simple.

A licensing fee will be implemented based off of projected profit and would need to be renewed once a year. And, of course, each container would be taxed. This could be based on the type of fish and their value on the open market, or a flat rate tax. This would be simple and fair, as well as fitting. If a natural resource is to be harvested, then the residents of the island affected should see some benefit to their community. Not only would this plan bring in much needed revenue, it would limit the number of fish taken, and probably pay the salaries of the employees of the newly instituted department of “fish exports.”

There you have it. Regulation at minimum expense for the state, a few new jobs added and thousands of our fish remain in Hawaiian waters for all to enjoy. Beneficial results all around.

What do you think people? Seems simple enough to work.

What I’ve suggested does not put “fish collectors” out of business, nor does it put an unreasonable financial burden on them. It simply forces a modicum of self-restraint on their part, and puts a little positive spin on their profession. And maybe, just maybe, our bays and shorelines will be given a chance to heal.

D. Davis is a resident of Honaunau.