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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 18, 2005

Despite objections, marine reserve bill moves ahead

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A bill that would increase the state's marine reserves advanced in the House yesterday despite fears of fishermen that nearshore fishing may be severely restricted or even banned altogether.

The bill mandates that at least 20 percent of the state's nearshore waters be designated as marine reserves by 2020. The bill advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee.

The state has a number of regulated fishing areas. A complete ban on fishing exists at some marine life conservation districts such as O'ahu's Hanauma Bay and Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island.

Some areas have limited restrictions such as the Waikiki-Diamond Head Shoreline Fisheries Management Area, which is closed to fishing during odd-numbered years. But supporters say a statewide network of marine reserves needs to be developed to ensure preservation of marine resources for future generations.

State Land Board Chairman Peter Young said the bill is not necessary because his agency is working on a wide-ranging program for marine protected areas. There needs to be better community education and discussion of the concept before a coordinated statewide plan can move forward, he said.

"Right now, we don't even have marine protected area defined in our rules or laws," Young said after the meeting.

Supporters of the bill, such as Ellyn Tong of the Pacific Fisheries Coalition, said they cannot wait for the DLNR to complete a statewide plan on its own.

"Ocean resources are one-quarter of what they were in 1900 and will continue to decline," she said. "If we want to leave something for our children and grandchildren, it is dumb and irresponsible to rely on the same management practices over and over and expect different results."

Representatives from the Nature Conservancy, the Ocean Law and Policy Institute of the Pacific, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the University of Hawai'i Environmental Center support the bill. Mark Fox of the Nature Conservancy said extensive use of marine protected areas have worked to replenish fisheries in Guam and elsewhere.

Recreational and commercial fishermen, however, testified that they are being squeezed by existing laws. They fear the minimum reserve area of 20 percent would mean many more areas will become off-limits to them.

"This bill will ultimately lead to a moratorium of fishing in Hawai'i, thus taking away a lifestyle of the local people," said Russ Ishimaru, a commercial fisherman. "I don't see any justification for 20 percent, 40 percent or 60 percent."

Mel Wise, a commercial aku fisherman, said Pearl Harbor was closed to bait-catching after the Sept. 11 attacks, leaving only three other open locations around O'ahu. Wise said he worries that perhaps two of those three remaining locations also will be shut off to him if the bill passes. That would kill the aku fishing industry, he said.

Wayne Dang, a recreational fisherman, said the state should look at providing more money for nature enforcement officers to ensure existing laws designed to preserve the fishing stock are enforced.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.