A bill that would allow inspections of vessels and catch containers belonging to permitted fishermen in West Hawaii waters is gaining momentum in the state Legislature.
House Bill 359 received overwhelming support during its initial hearing in Honolulu, where more than 60 people submitted supporting testimony while just two testified in opposition. The Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee recommended Friday the measure be passed with amendments.
Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, said she introduced the bill because it helps enforce the rules already in place. She was pleased the measure passed successfully through its first committee and was sent to the Judiciary Committee. A hearing has yet to be scheduled. A bill must be given three readings in the Senate and House of Representatives before it is considered passed by the Legislature, she added.
Lowen’s office said the amendments were technical and had to do with formatting and language.
HB359 authorizes “administrative inspections” in the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area of commercial fishers and wholesalers without warrant, probable cause or criminal liability. The inspections would be done by state Department of Land and Natural Resources agents.
The bill also requires the DLNR to create an administrative search scheme to monitor compliance with aquatic resources management regulation. Such action and “enhanced tools” are needed to ensure better compliance and monitoring of direct extraction activities within West Hawaii waters, the bill states.
“Reported poaching activities in West Hawaii’s fish replenishment areas indicate that ongoing illegal actions and adverse impacts to fisheries ecosystems and their sustainability pose an increasing threat of user conflicts, and potentially confound scientific research and monitoring projects,” according to the bill. “In addition, the lack of reliable data regarding fishing pressure and extraction levels in West Hawaii generally further undermines the state’s capacity to monitor and enhance West Hawaii’s near shore fishery resources. Unfortunately, the limited capacity or resources enforcement personnel, and their lack of inspection authority absent evidence establishing probable cause, prevents (DLNR) from effectively monitoring compliance with resources regulations to ensure the continued success of the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area.”
DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. said his department inspects commercial fishers and wholesalers statewide. He asked for further explanation of what administrative inspections are, when they apply and how they differ from what now exists. He also added the elimination of the probable cause requirement “may present constitutional problems, certainly for criminal prosecutions.”
Balking at the measure, Aila said DLNR, through administrative enforcement actions, can address “the same remedies quicker, more effectively, and with a greater chance of success.” He said “administrative actions give the department an opportunity to educate and change behavior across a broad community spectrum.”
In written testimony, Robert Hajeck of the Big Island Association of Aquarium Fishermen disagreed with the vagueness of who would be doing the inspections and how the responsibility is doled out “willy nilly.” He warned, “Once you take the power of inspection away from trained and professional law enforcement officers, and share it with duly authorized agents of the department, now you are creating a problem bigger than you could have ever imagined.” Hajaeck also said the bill was fabricating a problem where one doesn’t exist.
Anthony Nahacky, an aquarium fisherman for 45 years, said he supports efforts that remove individuals who don’t follow regulations from the fishery through reasonable enforcement. “This bill, unlike many others concerning the aquarium fishery, proposes useful regulation that will benefit all,” he wrote.
Several supporters claimed the proposed action was long overdue, makes common sense and helps protect sustainable use of valuable resources.
“Hawaii is the only state I know of where fish and wildlife enforcement officials cannot search vehicles and coolers for game infractions. It is just a given everywhere else and is accepted by all hunters and fishermen. The present situation in Hawaii is a joke if coolers and and boats cannot be inspected,” wrote Dale Sarver of Kona. “There is no point in making fish and game laws if the enforcement agencies have their hands tied like this. … This is a common-sense law and it’s frankly unbelievable it has not been acted on a very long time ago.”
Kona resident Rick Gaffney called the bill an important piece of legislation.
“For too many years, DLNR enforcement has been hampered by its inability to inspect the contents of coolers in order to determine if a resource violation has taken place,” he wrote. “HB359 rectifies that by giving our resource enforcement officers an essential tool for the protection of our ocean resources. As a lifetime resident and fisherman, I can think of no good reason to prevent the inspection of fish boxes and coolers.”