State officials concerned after citizens' group detains fishermen for violations
WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources chief of conservation enforcement said he's “concerned” after a Waimanalo community group detained some Micronesian fishermen who were later cited for fishing violations.
The incident, which happened in August, also points out the state's slow response to reports of fishing and other conservation violations during evening hours.
Waimanalo residents said they sometimes see groups of 15 to 20 Micronesian spear fishermen offshore with their lights on, spearing fish and breaking the law.
A Waimanalo citizens group called Na Kua'aina o Waimanalo stopped and detained some Micronesian fishermen, snapping photos of their illegal catch that included baby fish that were smaller than allowed by law.
Longtime Waimanalo fisherman Bob Lastimosa is worried things could get violent.
"We just hope that they can make time to take care of these issues before the Hawaiians and the Micronesians end up going to war," Lastimosa said.
In the August incident, the citizens' patrol told authorities they got no answer on a state conservation violation hotline because it was after hours, so they called 911.
The told officials they surrounded the fishermen and wouldn't let them leave until a police officer and an off-duty state conservation officer showed up.
The police officer cited the Micronesian fishermen for two violations.
The head of state conservation enforcement has told the group he's concerned about their patrols.
"We have said to them that your activities have to be done in such a way that it's legal and lawful. That we cannot and will not tolerate any behavior that's viewed as vigilante, for lack of a better term," said Randy Awo, enforcement chief for the state's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement. "Certainly, we will not condone any criminal behavior perpetrated by any community member on others coming into a very public fishery."
Awo said state officials have met with the citizens' group twice, most recently on Tuesday, to educate them on fishing regulations and explain to them how to safely document and report fishing violations.
"It became clear as a result of our discussion that they're not as familiar with the law as they should be. They've agreed to take books home with them to read and get acquainted with what the laws allow and disallow," Awo said.
"When you need them, they ain't here," said life-long Waimanalo fisherman Kenneth Ho who said the Waimanalo group was initially frustrated by a lack of state response when they would call in nighttime violations.
"When we first used to call them, maybe they like send one guy, maybe. Maybe about two or three hours later,” said Ho, a retired city firefighter. “But now, now at least we see them about 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock. Eh, they're here now, you know what I mean?"
Awo responded, saying: "I would say that's, unfortunately, not necessarily uncommon, given our very limited staffing. We can't always be there immediately."
The state has only about 30 conservation officers to cover Oahu seven days a week, and has only recently re-started semi-regular night time patrols, officials said. There is no dispatcher answering a hotline live after hours at night.
In response to the complaints, the state has conducted several night-time undercover operations in Waimanalo but has not found any violations so far.
Because of the increased attention and oversight, the Waimanalo fishermen said the Micronesian fishermen have found a new place to fish at night, just a few miles up the highway at Sandy Beach.
Ho, who says he's been fishing off Waimanalo for his entire life, said, "Nobody wants any kind of confrontation whatsoever. Everybody wants to be level-headed and think about it."