The blessing of a new, donated state fisheries enforcement boat, Kai'aiki, on Saturday and the launch of a pilot nearshore waters enforcement unit are both steps toward protecting ocean resources, said longtime fisherman Darrell Tanaka.
But much more needs to be done statewide, he said.
"I think the results that this special unit will produce will be very eye-opening to everyone," he said. "It will shed light on a criminal element that is rarely seen . . . There's more poaching going on than people realize."
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui (foreground, from left) and Mayor Alan Arakawa wave to onlookers as they join Eric Co of the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Jason Philibotte of Conservation International’s Hawaii Fish Trust and state Sen. Roz Baker on a short inaugural ride aboard the new state fisheries enforcement boat, Kai‘aiki, on Saturday at Kahului Harbor.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Kahu John Kapono‘aikaulikeikeao Molitau blesses the state’s new fisheries enforcement boat. The boat will be used by officials belonging to a pilot nearshore waters enforcement unit that will patrol 13 miles of Maui’s north shore from Hulu Island off Kahakuloa to Baldwin Beach Park in Paia. Conservation International donated the boat to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
The pilot Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit will include three state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers, a data manager, a program coordinator and a member of Makai Watch, a group that works to restore and sustain coastal resources. The enforcement unit will police a 13-mile stretch of coastline from Hulu Island off Kahakuloa to Baldwin Beach Park in Paia, extending three miles seaward.
While the enforcement will not affect deep-water commercial fishing, it is expected to have an impact on the fishing of lobster and octopuses and reef fish such as kumu and uhu, said Tanaka, a former commercial spear fisherman and occasional pole fisher.
The new enforcement unit is a pilot project, although the intention of state enforcement officials is for it to be a template for enforcing state resource laws in nearshore waters statewide.
"It will highlight the need for more enforcement on every island, on every shoreline," said Tanaka, who added that the state needs more enforcement officers to protect future resources.
The state budget proposed recently by the House Finance Committee proposes eliminating vacant positions, many of which are in the DLNR, he said.
"The state House has a history of being an enemy of our natural resources," he said.
Maui's north shore still has a relatively healthy reef ecosystem that warrants additional protection, he added.
"There's still fish out there," he said. "We need to protect what we have left out there."
Maui's north shore is protected by both its extensive reef and its sometimes difficult-to-access shoreline because of rough weather, Tanaka said.
By comparison, South Maui's reefs are more depleted.
"In South Maui, you'd be hard-pressed to find one legal lobster," he said, adding that tako (octopuses) are sparse there and kumu are a "rare sighting."
Pukalani resident and longtime fisherman Norm Ham said he initially thought the new enforcement boat was an unnecessary waste of money. But after Saturday's blessing, he learned that the vessel was donated by the Conservation International Hawaii Fish Trust, and he said he saw that the enforcement was aimed at preserving resources for his grandchildren and future Hawaiians.
"It has to work," he said. "Something spiritual happens when people get together and want to make sure everything is enforced."
Ham said, though, there's a bigger picture for the health of reefs, including the need to protect them from pollution, whether it be runoff from golf course fertilizers or petroleum residue on island roads.
"It's bad for the ocean, but what can you do?" he asked.
Tanaka said there's "no quick fix" to pollution that affects reef life.
But he said the state still needs to start with adequate enforcement of meaningful regulations.
"From there, we build up and tackle larger problems," he said.
"I hope it works," said fisherman Max Renigado, of the new enforcement effort, although the Lanai resident added that he expects fishermen to resist the attempt to police the area.
"That's the nature of life," he said. "They don't understand the reason why."
Renigado said it will take at least five and perhaps as much as 20 years to see a positive impact from increased enforcement on nearshore ocean resources.
"I hope I get to see the results," he said.
Tanaka said Saturday's blessing of the Kai'aiki is "definitely a step in the right direction."
"It's a small step that shouldn't have been so difficult to achieve in the first place," he said.
That the boat was paid for with private funding should be an embarrassment for the state, Tanaka said.
"The state should be doing this," he said. "When is the state going to step up to the plate to meaningfully protect our reefs?"
Randy Awo, administrator of the state DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said the new enforcement unit is an initiative that "focuses on the protection of our nearshore fisheries through community collaboration and the creation of enforcement models that are more focused and efficient."
Awo has said that there are fewer than 100 state enforcement division officers to patrol more than 3 million acres of water, the fourth largest coastline in the nation, and 1.3 million acres of state land, and the 11th largest forest reserve in the United States.
Kai'aiki is named after the wind that blows from Wailuku to Hamakuapoko.
The development of the pilot enforcement program is a collaborative effort among the Hawaii Fish Trust, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and the DLNR, state officials said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.