HONOLULU — The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider strengthening fishery regulations in waters off the Big Island’s western coast when it meets today.
The board is scheduled to discuss and vote on several proposed rules, including ones that would that would ban spearfishing by fishermen diving with the aid of scuba gear and limit aquarium fish collecting to a list of 40 species.
Department staffers say the measures would allow officials to more effectively regulate and manage marine resources.
But several fishermen are objecting, saying a scuba spearfishing prohibition is unwarranted and could lead to similar bans elsewhere in the state.
The fishermen also oppose changing the boundaries of a fishery management area off Puako. They believe there are more fish in the area than fish stock surveys indicate and say pollution from development on land is harming the reef more than fishing.
The proposed rules were developed over 10 years of discussion and hearings by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council, a community advisory group formed in response to a 1998 law that sought to manage conflicts over fishing in the area.
Those arguing for the ban say scuba divers target larger fish, which is a concern in part because the offspring of larger female fish have been shown to survive better and grow faster than the offspring of younger fish. They also argue scuba fishermen harvest in deeper waters where fish take refuge from free diving spearfishing.
The department says 89 percent of the 565 west Hawaii County residents who submitted public testimony last year supported the scuba ban. Similar percentages around the state and outside Hawaii supported the prohibition.
But Phil Fernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, Inc., said there’s a benefit to scuba fishermen going deeper for their catch. He said they tend to target different fish — like gray snapper or uku and pink snapper or weke ula — that have relatively healthy stocks.
If spearfishing with scuba gear is banned, fishermen will just fish more in shallower reefs and fish stocks there will come under more pressure, he said.
The Kona resident said fishermen don’t want a West Hawaii ban to set a precedent for other prohibitions elsewhere.
Fernandez and other fishermen also oppose redrawing the boundary of the Puako fishery management area based on updated surveys using satellite imagery of the reef.
Fernandez said this is because fishermen are being blamed for the reef’s deterioration, even though he believes development on shore is more at fault. Polluted runoff is flowing into the ocean from paved roads, people using fertilizer on their lawns and cesspools, he said.
“There are many factors that’s killing the reef,” Fernandez said. “Fishing is probably the least harmful human use of that reef, yet fishing is what is being banned when they should be focusing their efforts on other areas.”
Tina Owens, the executive director of the Lost Fish Coalition, a group supporting reef conservation, counters there’s been relatively little development along the Puako coastline compared to, say, Maui where development onshore has harmed reefs. She said West Hawaii reefs aren’t overrun with algae the way reefs elsewhere in the state are. She said overfishing is the major reason for declining reef health in West Hawaii and it makes sense to address this issue as soon as possible.
“Yes, there are other factors. But overfishing is the major factor in most of these things,” she said.