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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2003

State weighs partial gillnet ban

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is considering a partial ban on the use of lay gillnets in Hawaiian waters.

Meeting times

Today at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Beach Park, O'ahu, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 5 at Wai'anae Library, O'ahu, 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 20 at Wilcox Elementary School Cafeteria, Lihu'e, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Kealakehe High School, Kailua, Kona, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 23 at Waiakea High School, Hilo, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 26 at Mitchell Pauole Center, Moloka'i, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 27 at Lana'i Public Library, Lana'i, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 29 at Maui Waena Intermediate School, Kahului, 6 to 9 p.m.

Jan. 30 at Benjamin Parker School, Kane'ohe, 6 to 9 p.m.

Gillnets have been a divisive issue in the fishing community, and a statewide series of public meetings is expected to draw heated comment. The state Division of Aquatic Resources says on its Web site that the suggestion to ban gillnets came from members of the fishing community.

While supporters say that gillnets, properly used, are an efficient, appropriate way for families to gather marine resources for food, opponents argue that the nets are indiscriminate in that they catch much of what swims by, including protected species such as turtles.

Storms and high surf often wash the nets away from where they were set, dragging live coral and other resources with them. If their owners don't recover them, they become "ghost nets," which continue catching marine life for months or years.

"Ghost nets become a bigger problem when they catch the first fish, because that acts as bait to attract other animals that get caught," said Kaua'i aquatic biologist Don Heacock.

A 300-foot abandoned gillnet in Nawiliwili Bay last week had caught a green sea turtle, shark, lobster, several varieties of fish, crabs and other species, and had also wrapped up dozens of coral boulders by the time State Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officials pulled it out of the water Tuesday.

They could not identify the owner of the net, which they said was a cheap, machine-made mesh, with floaters and weights apparently added locally. It was not clear whether the net had been abandoned where it was found, or had washed from another site in last week's stormy weather. Under existing law, gillnets must be checked at least every two hours and must be pulled up after four hours.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources does not have written regulations prepared, but does have a series of guidelines that could be turned into regulations.

"We want to hear from the fishers and the community at large to get the widest possible range of viewpoints on this issue," said Land Board chairman Peter Young.

The suggested statewide ban has a number of exemptions. It would apply to lay gillnets, but not to throw nets, cast nets, 'opelu or akule nets, aquarium fish fence nets, fish traps, lobster nets or lobster traps.

There could be exemptions for specific geographical areas based on the condition of fishery resources there.

Where allowed, nets could never be left unattended; they would need to be continuously monitored. Snagged turtles, dolphins, seals or other unintended bycatch would need to be immediately removed from the net.

Nets would have to be individually registered by the owner and tagged with a serial number at both ends and on the floatline and leadline. The serial number also would be marked on buoys at the ends of the net.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources indicated it would also consider limited exemptions for traditional cultural users who employ hand-made nets woven of cord made from plant fiber. Such uses still could be limited by the establishment of periodic no-fishing periods.

Details are available at the Division of Aquatic Resources offices on all islands, and at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/laynet_mgmt.htm. The Web site also will update the meeting schedule if there are changes.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.