Hawaii bans scuba spearfishing in West Hawaii

Published: Jun. 29, 2013 at 12:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (AP) - The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is prohibiting spearfishing in waters off West Hawaii by people diving with the aid of scuba gear.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of the ban after hearing more than six hours of testimony on fishing in the area.

The board also approved a new rule limiting aquarium fish collection in West Hawaii waters to 40 species.

Department staffers say measures will allow officials to more effectively regulate and manage marine resources.

But several fishermen testified in opposition of the proposals.

They say a scuba spearfishing prohibition is unwarranted. They worry such a rule will lead to similar bans elsewhere in Hawaii.

The rules were developed by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council community advisory group over 10 years of discussion and hearings.

[AP's earlier story is below.]

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday will consider steps that would strengthen fishing rules in waters off West Hawaii.

Proposals on the table include banning spearfishing by scuba divers and allowing only 40 species of fish to be collected for the aquarium fish trade.

Another proposal would update the boundaries of Puako fish management area to reflect information newly learned from satellite images of the reef.

Department staffers say the measures will allow officials to more effectively regulate and manage marine resources. They've recommended that the board adopt the rules.

But several fishermen oppose key proposals. They say the science doesn't call for a ban on the practice. They're also worried banning spearfishing off West Hawaii would set a precedent and lead to other spearfishing bans around the state.

The proposed rules were developed over 10 years of discussion and hearings by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council, a community advisory group formed in response to a 1998 law that sought to manage conflicts over fishing in the area.

Those in favor say scuba divers target larger fish, which is a concern because the offspring of larger female fish survive better and grow faster than the offspring of younger fish. They also argue that scuba fishermen harvest in deeper waters where fish take refuge.

South Kohala resident Mel Malinosky testified before the board that scuba spearfishermen are taking the fish that lay the most eggs, and these specimens need to be kept in West Hawaii.

"This is not about restricting Hawaiian gathering practices. If we have regular spearfishing -the reef could handle that. There are advanced technologies that are taking too much," Malinosky said.

Phil Fernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, Inc., said fishermen who spearfish with the help of scuba gear go deeper and get different types of fish than fishermen who free dive. He says they go after different types of fish, like grey snapper or uku and pink snapper or weke ula.

Fernandez, of Kona, testified that development, use of fertilizer on land and cesspools are more important factors than overfishing that have led to damage to reefs.

"I agree it is 1 of the factors but there are many factors that do more harm to the reef," he said.

Tony Costa, of Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen, said banning scuba spearfishing would compromise the community's ability to gather food, as well as makes it unsafe and difficult to gather food. He said the abundant fish catch of fishermen confirms stocks are healthy.

"The use of scuba and spear is the nature of our gathering style. We have been sustainably gathering, harvesting in this manner for the last 50 years," Costa said.

Nearly 90% of the 565 residents of West Hawaii who submitted public testimony on the topic last year supported the scuba ban. Similar percentages around the state and outside Hawaii supported the prohibition.

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