KAHULUI - The state is proposing rule changes for Maui and Lanai fisheries that involve new bag and size limits that had members of the local fishing community concerned about what they say is an infringement upon their Native Hawaiian "cultural rights."
A meeting organized by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources attracted about 100 people Wednesday night at Maui Waena Intermediate School.
The changes propose bag and size limits for several popular nearshore reef fish, including goatfish, parrotfish (uhu) and jacks (ulua and papio). Under the new rules, none of the large blue parrotfish (uhu 'ele'ele and uhu uliuli) may be taken at any time, and no more than two of the other varieties of uhu per fisherman may be taken in a day.
Kahului’s Nina Nino casts a line while fishing for papio in Kahului Harbor with Lawrence Verzosa on Wednesday afternoon. The state is looking at imposing a five papio per day limit per fisherman.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Other rule changes include:
* For uhu, female uhu 'ele'ele and uhu uliuli must be at least 14 inches (a 2-inch increase from current rules), all other uhu species must be at least 10 inches (2 inches shorter than currently).
* For goatfish, no more than two each of moano kali and munu varieties, only one kumu per person per day, all of which need to be at least 12 inches (there are currently no bag limits). The current limit for oama still stands at 50 per day but may now only be caught with pole and line.
* For ulua/papio, no omilu (bluefin trevally) greater than 24 inches may be taken, only five jacks per person per day (currently a combined 20 jacks may be taken). The current 10-inch size limit still stands, though only two jacks larger than 24 inches may be taken in a day. No commercial take of omilu is allowed, though papa may be harvested commercially provided they are between 16 and 24 inches.
In addition, a 20-limit bag rule would be imposed for aholehole, kole, manini and menpachi, which were before unregulated. Mu would be limited to two fish per person per day and must be a minimum of 14 inches.
Moi and paku'iku'i will be limited to five fish per person per day (Currently, moi has a 15 catch limit; there is no limit for paku'iku'i).
"There's a need to better manage these fish resources; there's a great amount of concern about perceived overharvest," Russell Sparks, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, said at the informational meeting.
"Community concern is a major driver for these fishery rule updates," he said.
Decreased species populations throughout the state, increased commercial harvesting and overgrowth of invasive seaweed, which reef fish feed on, were just some of the reasons cited for the proposed changes.
The division held three rounds of public scoping meetings beginning in January 2009, as well as small stakeholder meetings within the community, Sparks said. In addition, more than a thousand questionnaires were circulated at fishing tournaments, gas stations, stores and other areas. The division has received 128 surveys, which showed that 70 percent were supportive of the proposed changes.
But residents Wednesday argued that many local fisherman had never heard of the surveys that were circulated three years ago, and to base decisions that would impact an entire community on the opinions of only 128 people would be a mistake.
Additionally, many local fishermen have been catching fish offshore for generations, absent state-imposed regulations on how big or how many they could catch.
"I build throw nets, I throw my net, so what happens then," said Haiku resident James Sagawinit, referring to the extra fish that may wind up in his net. "I learned how to fish from the old people. If I lose this, I lose my cultural rights. All the kanaka lose their cultural rights. . . . The old people cannot afford to go market and buy (fish). I do not sell my fish, I give it to the old people. Bag limits, I don't know how you gonna do it."
Others agreed that fishing was an important tradition and cultural heritage that the proposed rule changes threatened to disrupt.
"My boy now, he getting to that age where he just learning to throw net," Makawao resident Maui Fernandez said of his 14-year-old son. "How I gonna tell him, 'Sorry boy, you cannot keep your ulua. That's just another part of your Hawaiian (heritage) you cannot do anymore.' ''
Paia resident Patrick Borge, who was born and raised on Maui and has been "fishing all my life," suggested the state look at other ways that they could better manage the resource.
"We have to think for the future, but what is the state doing to help us? Not just by regulating, but with what they brought in, the taape. . . . It's not the fishermen (depleting the resources). Taape eat anything in sight. It's good the state wants to preserve the fish, but what are they doing to help us? They're the ones who brought in the fish."
Taape, or blueline snapper, was introduced to Hawaiian waters around the 1950s and has preyed on indigenous reef fish. Roundups have been held periodically on Maui since 2008 to reduce the number of nonindigenous taape, toau (blacktail snapper) and roi (peacock grouper).
A number of local fisherman on Lanai and in Hana, where other meetings where held Tuesday and last week, also were against the proposed changes, Sparks said. The Hana meeting held Oct. 10 got so heated that it was cut short about halfway into the presentation, he said.
The proposed rule changes would apply only to the islands of Maui and Lanai, because "the resources and the public's willingness to accept regulation is different on different islands," Sparks said. Molokai is not included because at the time the division was getting community feedback in 2009, it was unknown "what the community would or wouldn't support," he said. However, the state has worked with the Molokai community on a community-based fisheries management plan that is more subsistence-based.
Sparks welcomed public feedback at a later date, insisting that the meeting held Wednesday was an informational one so that the community would have time to process the information, form their opinions and then testify at the round of public hearings next month.
"We want to hear from all the different stakeholders who use the resources in different ways, accumulate input and understand how the proposal will affect everyone. It's not an easy process," Sparks said.
Public hearings on the proposed bag and size limit changes will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on:
* Nov. 19 in Lanai City at the Lanai Senior Center.
* Nov. 20 in Hana at Helene Hall.
* Nov. 21 in Kahului in Maui Waena School cafeteria.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.