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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 16, 2009

Budget cuts threaten fishing

Advertiser Staff Writer

More bad news may be just around the corner for Hawai'i's freshwater fishermen.

With just two days until the scheduled Saturday opening of this year's catfish season at Nu'uanu Freshwater Fish Refuge, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has not decided whether it can afford to open the popular spot this year because of state budget cuts.

The DLNR also blamed budget cuts two weeks ago when it ended hatchery operations that had supplied Nu'uanu and Koke'e State Park on Kaua'i with catfish and trout, respectively, for decades.

Together, the developments have local anglers worried that the future of freshwater fishing in Hawai'i may be in jeopardy.

"If DLNR and other interested parties can't find a solution to this issue, freshwater fishing for catfish and trout in Hawai'i is basically doomed," said Arlen Meline, president of the Waikahe'olu Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a national fisheries conservation group.

A proposal on how to accommodate the budget cuts is still in the planning stages at the DLNR, said department spokeswoman Deborah Ward. The biggest issue is that the cuts don't allow for paying workers overtime, and state workers need to be at the refuge to weigh fish and patrol the area.

Meanwhile, freshwater fishermen are still waiting for their entry cards and fishing time assignments, said Brian Kimate, owner of Brian's Fishing Supply.

"People have to make plans," he said. "If they (DLNR officials) were on the fence about this, they should've been more forthcoming about it. Just out of courtesy, you think they would've let us know."

The department opens the catfish-stocked refuge three weekends a year to those who apply for a freshwater license and entry card. Applications are due at the Division of Aquatic Resources several weeks in advance, and the department holds a lottery to determine fishing times.

About 7,000 people applied for freshwater fishing licenses during this session, Ward said.

Kimate said he's heard many people wondering when their entry cards are coming in the mail.

"It's something everybody looks forward to doing," Kimate said. "They were saying this might be the last time, so we had a lot of people going. Now we might not have anyone."

Without annual restocking, both the Nu'uanu and Koke'e fishing areas will probably be depleted in a matter of years.

Kimate said the only other freshwater alternative on O'ahu is Wahiawa Reservoir, commonly known as Lake Wilson.

"You could go to Lake Wilson and take your chances, but if you want to catch catfish it's Nu'uanu," Kimate said.

Meline said the dropping water level at Lake Wilson would make it hard for fishermen.

"It's so low, they'd be hard-pressed to get their boats in the water at all," he said.

Nu'uanu is a well-known family fishing spot and a safe training area for new fishers, Meline said.

"I've got a grandson, and a place like Nu'uanu is perfect for that sort of thing," he said. "It's pretty hard to take him out on a reef and fish out there, given the waves and things like that. When you go to Nu'uanu, you don't have to worry about the surf pounding at you."

Meline said he understands the difficulties that budget cuts present , but argued that the state could take advantage of volunteers from the Hawai'i Freshwater Fishing Association if they need people to patrol the area.

"There's a way for the state to get around it if they wanted to," he said.