HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some ocean scientists and conservationists urged the Board of Land and Natural Resources to ban spear fishing using scuba gear in waters off the Big Island's west coast, from North Kohala to Kau.
"Amend Hawaii Administrative Rules, Title 13, Chapter 75, rules for regulating the possession and use of certain gear," said Dr. William Walsh of the Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources.
He and others believe scuba spear fishing has contributed to declining fish populations and the degrading of reefs.
"These fish the scuba spear fishermen are targeting are the big specimens, the ones we need the most," South Kohala resident Mel Malinowski testified.
"If what they say is true we would have wiped it out years ago. I would not be able to support my family," scuba spear fisherman Tate Marks said.
Scuba fishermen told the board they're not the reason for reef damage. They blame pollution, sedimentation and sewage.
"To correlate over-fishing with the dead reef, that's not possible," Makani Christensen said. "There's something that's damaging this reef well beyond anybody's control."
But supporters of a ban argue that years of documentation back up their claims that scuba spear fishing must be banned.
"It's deep water resting areas where the big fish rest, where you can take 10 or 15 of them at one time," said Marni Herkes of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council.
"The scuba spear fishermen are digging up the root stocks," Malinowski said.
About 50 scuba spear fishermen attended the meeting, including several from the Big Island. They said fish stocks are thriving, even close to dying reefs.
"The fish weren't even attracted to those areas," Christensen said. "Then 50 yards to the right the reef lit up. We saw schools of maybe 300 uhu."
Marks testified that banning the practice would take away a tool to feed their families and to earn an income.
"What good is it of putting men, of making their lives harder and tougher if it's not accomplishing anything," fisherman Carl Jellings said.
The debate over banning scuba spear fishing off the Big Island's west side has been brewing for years.