A proposal to make West Hawaii the lone area in the state to ban scuba spearfishing sparked contentious debate at a public hearing in Kona that was still going at press time Wednesday.
The fishing technique, already banned in Australia, would be outlawed in area waters by a West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area rule, part of a Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources’ proposed rule changes and amendments package.
Leonard Torricer, who said overall he was against the package, asked that the practice not be banned entirely. He suggested creating areas where scuba spearfishing would be allowed — similar to what has happened with aquarium collecting — or a no-sale list for certain species. Others suggested similar ideas, like prohibiting spearfishing at night.
“Don’t ban it and stop local people from feeding their families,” said Torricer.
However, others, such as Big Island resident Steven Thompson, said the ban was needed because the practice “is not a sport — it is a slaughter, especially at night when some species are asleep.”
More than 200 people filled Kealakehe High School’s cafeteria for the hearing on an array of proposed rules and amendments. Some 35 people had provided testimony as of press time.
The proposals follow a decade of research, committee meetings and community discussions facilitated by the fisheries council. The goal is to ensure continued resource sustainability, enhance near-shore resources and minimize user conflicts and confusion within the management area, established in 1998.
Creating a Kaohe Bay Fish Replenishment Area prohibiting fish collection and feeding got thumbs-up from a majority of West Hawaii residents during the hearing.
The ban would affect a 1,500-foot section commonly known as Pebble Beach in South Kona. The addition would resolve a long-standing conflict between collectors and the community, according to the department.
“We feel that we’ve gotten to a point of communication that has integrity and trust as its foundation,” said 20-year Kona Paradise resident Zachary Zoran. “It seems to me that now is the time to follow through and make something happen with these amendments and changes that will certainly bode well for all the future fisheries.”
Thompson said the replenishment area would have a positive effect on reefs in and outside the bay. He pointed to a study that looked at the DNA of adult yellow tang in the Milolii Fish Replenishment Area that found the area supplied juvenile fish at Hookena and Wawaloli, some 40 miles away.
“It was the first (time) in the world (this happened) for any species in any marine protected area anywhere,” he said.
Also contained in the package are: establishment a long-talked-about “white list,” a prohibition on the take of nine shark and ray species and two invertebrates, and creating a West Hawaii Aquarium Permit. Among the amendments are restrictions to nighttime aquarium collecting, labeling requirements, and net and length clarifications. Some other clarifications are also being made.
The 40 species white list would designate fish that aquarium collectors may remove within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, which spans 147 miles between Upolu and South points. Size and bag limits would be instituted for yellow and Achilles tang, and kole.
“I think it’s a good compromise, because it allows the commercial aquarium collectors to continue their livelihood while providing regulations and protection for species,” said Susan Kellum. “We have seen Maui’s plans fail time after time because they won’t compromise.”
Some noted that size limits should be instituted for all species while others such as Mike Nakachi, who was involved in litigation with the DLNR over aquarium collection, said the list overall is illegal.
The list is in “direct violation of the Hawaii Environmental Protection (Policy) Act by allowing the commercial interest to supersede the public interest,” he said.
The proposals are available online at hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/announcements.html. Testimony will be accepted through Dec. 19.