Gov. Neil Abercrombie doesn’t yet have the official version of the proposed West Hawaii Fishery Management rules package, Department of Land and Natural Resources officials said Thursday evening.
DLNR Deputy Director Bill Tam, who has been overseeing the Division of Aquatic Resources for the past year, said there was some confusion within the department about to whom the rules package had been submitted for review. Last week, DLNR Chairman William Aila said the Attorney General’s office had reviewed the rules. Tam said Thursday the package had actually been sent to the Legislative Reference Bureau. The deputy attorney general responsible for reviewing the rules is out of the office this week, but the rules will be on that person’s desk first thing Monday morning, Tam said.
“They are technically not in the governor’s office,” he said during a meeting in the Kealakehe Intermediate School cafeteria. “They should be next week.”
More than 100 people stayed to discuss the fisheries rules, although other department officials, including those from Transportation, Human Services and Health, were also available in small, breakout sessions. Aila attended the meeting, but left the discussion of the fishery rules to Tam.
Comments between opponents and supporters quickly turned heated. Hanalei Fergerstrom, of Na Kupuna Moku o Keawe, asked the rules’ supporters to take a broader view of the situation. Fishermen aren’t depleting the fish populations, but development, pollution and a variety of other factors are, he said. Hawaiians sustained a population of about a million people through the kapu system, he added.
“How did almost a million people survive for thousands of years here without this so-called science?” Fergerstrom asked.
Sue Kellam, co-founder of Friends of Pebble Beach, asked Fergerstrom about people who claim to practice subsistence fishing but do not.
“If someone is going in and taking 600, 800 pounds of parrot fish and selling it in Hilo, it’s no longer subsistence,” Kellam said. “It’s commercial. We need rules because a lot of people aren’t during the right thing.”
That prompted a quick, passionate response from Terri Napeahi, vice president of the Pele Defense Fund, who asked Kellam if she was accusing Hawaiians of depleting the fish populations. No, Kellam said, that’s not what she was trying to say.
“Every rule package must not ignore the rights our Hawaiian people have,” Napeahi said. “Spearfishing is one of them. As we go through years, they come up with ways. I no longer have to hold my breath two hours to go fish. Tradition means to continue to perpetuate and harvest the food we know how to take care of.”
As Napeahi became more animated, getting a rousing chorus of both yes and no from the crowd when she asked if attendees thought Hawaiians were to blame for the declining fish populations, a moderator asked her to wrap up her comments.
“I have every right as a Native Hawaiian to say what I have to say,” Napeahi said. “You are participating in changing our lifestyle and making us go to a food source that we don’t have to if we don’t have the monies.”
South Kohala resident Mel Malinowski reiterated Kellam’s point that subsistence fishing isn’t the problem. He said the bigger issue was a contingent of Oahu fishermen who lobbied against the rules before the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
“Ultimately we’re going to wind up like Oahu,” Malinowski said. “These Oahu fisherman who want this should spend their time and money to restore fishing on Oahu. Then they won’t have to come over and take our fish.”
Abercrombie left the cafeteria when the breakout sessions began and may not have heard any of the testimony and questions about the proposal. The governor offered brief opening and closing remarks, but made no comments on any issues presented to any departments during the meeting.