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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

We must protect our fisheries

By Mina Morita and Brian Schatz

Recent news reports on the condition of Hawai'i's fisheries dramatize that stakeholders in the industry disagree harshly over the appropriate and correct responses to declining nearshore fish populations.

At the core of these heated debates among scientists, fisheries managers and fishers, who are on both sides of the argument, is whether catch size and catch method regulations are adequate to restore and sustain fish populations. Should these regulations be complemented with "no-take" or marine preserves?

These preserve systems create pockets of intact ecosystems that support big, productive females that provide offspring to declining fish populations in unprotected areas.

Despite these disagreements, there is strong consensus on the need for a community-based or ground-up approach to managing our fisheries, reminiscent of the traditional ahupua'a system. During the last legislative session, concerned legislators proposed this approach to managing Hawai'i's fisheries through House Bill 1407, the work product of an interim group made up of various stakeholder and interested participants.

This bill would have created a network of marine reserves in the main Hawaiian Islands through consultation with Marine Stewardship Advisory Councils established on each island. Marine reserves are a proven fisheries management tool, and the advisory councils, modeled on the island burial councils, would ensure the reserves meet the unique needs of each island community.

Through this measure, Hawai'i could take a significant step toward restoring our fisheries and marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, discussion on this bill could not move forward because of opposition from those who feel the current minimum catch size and catch method regulations are adequate.

With warnings about the health of our oceans globally and in Hawai'i, communities throughout our Islands need to respond to these threats to our ocean-based culture, lifestyles and businesses.

Nearly as unanimous as the scientific evidence about the decline of fisheries and ocean ecosystems is consensus on the need for a community-based or ground-up approach to managing marine resources, particularly fisheries. In this case, Hawai'i has a distinct advantage.

Traditionally, Hawai'i managed nearshore marine resources through the ahupua'a system. This approach is just the type of management that Hawai'i's fisheries need today. Hawai'i's coasts are very diverse in geological, biological and social terms. One-size-fits-all regulation will not work for our island communities and fisheries. The right solutions to manage fisheries in Hawai'i will come from and be implemented and enforced by local communities.

In addition to agreement on the need to incorporate communities in fishery management, there is also consensus on the need to act now. Evidence from other fisheries shows that fish populations can crash rapidly, which can result in widespread unemployment among commercial fishers and seriously threaten the ecological integrity of the ocean.

There are many success stories of rebounds in fish populations after taking appropriate and complementary management actions. We strongly believe that House Bill 1407 contained the right tools to restore fisheries in Hawai'i and a prominent role for communities. This bill would ensure fisheries management is consistent with local needs and conditions, especially for our rural communities and those that depend on a subsistence lifestyle.

Mina Morita is chairwoman of the state House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. Brian Schatz is chairman of the House Committee on Economic Development and Business Concerns.