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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Experts urge local control of fisheries

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Coastal fisheries are so different from one another that a broad-brush management approach is not the most effective way to protect them, fisheries managers and scientists said at a conference yesterday.

Conference participants agreed that one of the keys to resolving fishing issues is to find a single responsible party, perhaps the local community.

"The Western concept of fisheries management is so complex, across so many agencies, that everybody can point at somebody else," said William Aila, a Hawaiian fisherman and member of the Western Pacific Fisheries Coalition.

Aila is participating in a seminar at the East-West Center for resource managers from other Pacific islands. A basic focus is managing fisheries on a limited budget.

"For most of us in the South Pacific, we have very limited resources," said Bernard Thoulag, head of the National Oceanic Resources Management Authority of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Ray Tulafono, director of American Samoa's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, said he hopes the strength of the traditional village social system, known in the U.S. territory as the matai system, can help.

"We know from the beginning that our fisheries resources are declining ... I think that the traditional bottom-up rather than top-down system can help. The matai system is strong," Tulafono said.

Nine Samoan villages have established marine preserves in their coastal waters, and once the village council establishes a regulation, there is strong community pressure to adhere to it, he said.

There are some Hawaiian examples, as well. A Moloka'i community group has been granted permission to regulate the fishery resources along a section of the western side of the island.

On the Kona coast of the Big Island, a community group has been developing regulations to preserve and restore its marine resources.

Residents of Ni'ihau recently asked Gov. Linda Lingle for help protecting their coastal fish resources from fishing by outsiders, and the state Division of Aquatic Resources is working on a proposal to that end.

William Friedlander, a fisheries ecologist with the National Oceanic Service and Oceanic Institute, said it is clear to him that one-size-fits-all fisheries regulations in Hawai'i are not as effective as ones based on local conditions and local knowledge.

He called for the re-establishment of traditional management practices.