Local government, fishing industry oppose proposed national monuments

Brooks Takenaka
Brooks Takenaka

By Leland Kim - bio | email

NORTHWEST HAWAIIAN ISLANDS (KHNL) - The Bush administration announced this week it wants to create three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

Opponents attending a coral reef task force meeting on the Big Island claim this could have major impacts on the fishing industry here in Hawaii and across the region.

The government of the Northern Mariana Islands as well as many of the people around here who depend on fishing for their livelihood are vehemently opposed to it.  The creation of the three monuments is still in the proposal stage, so it's not a done deal just yet.

White House officials tell us the president is committed to the environment and this is another way to protect ocean life.

Hawaii's fishing industry is a vital part of our island culture.

"Anybody get dollar eighty?  Dollar seventy?" a fish market auctioneer calls out at Pier 38.

Some in the islands are concerned about a White House proposal that would create new national marine monuments, similar to Papahanaumokuakea: the largest national monument in the country.

"Intent is one thing and we instill more regulations, only to find that maybe perhaps have excluded some people, not considered the interest of others, and this is where some of us are having a difficult time," said Brooks Takenaka, a spokesperson with the United Fishing Agency.

This latest proposal would have a direct impact on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), located 3,700 miles west of Hawaii.

"The monument in the CNMI would show complete and total disrespect for what the indigenous people have done historically to have this 115,000 miles of marine waters, be in the pristine conditions that they are," said Dr. John Joyner, the director of coastal resources management for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

But the White House says the Bush administration will make conservation a top priority.

"So it's very important that we elevate the awareness of both the challenges we face, but also the enormous opportunities through smart practices, new technologies, to solve those challenges," said Jim Connaughton, a spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

About 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is shipped in from other countries.  Some fear, the national monument designation will stifle the local fishing industry.

"Why not promote U.S. fishing industries that are environmentally sound with sound practices and eat our own fish?" asked Kitty Simonds, the director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Still, the White House says feedback will be part of the equation.

"As we look forward at new marine managed areas, new marine conservation issues, we're going to be sure we're taking into account the need to assure access for recreational fishing," said Connaughton.

"Given that, the question is why fix what is not broken?" asked Dr. Joyner.  "Why bother what is not endangered?"

Some unanswered questions as the Bush administration moves forward with the plan.

The White House points out it has the most aggressive clean air policy in a generation, and invested $3 billion to improve our national parks.

So they're saying the national marine sanctuary proposal is part of an overall commitment to the environment.

Critics accuse the president of doing this at the end of his second term to ensure a "green" legacy.