Scientists deliver alarming message about future of Hawaii's coral reefs

Scientists deliver alarming message about future of Hawaii's coral reefs
Updated: Nov. 2, 2017 at 5:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's coral reefs and nearshore fisheries are facing unprecedented threats that put their future in question.

That's the blunt assessment of a group of Hawaii scientists who delivered an informational briefing to lawmakers Thursday.

Scientists say they've got more than evidence nearshore fisheries are depleted.

"What we found was pretty overwhelming. About 40 percent of the species will be classified as overfished," said Alan Freidlander, of the University of Hawaii Fisheries Ecology Lab and chief scientist of the National Geographic Society's Pristine Seas project. "The correlations are more people, less fish."

He said gear restrictions and size limits help, but bag limits and quotas don't work.

Still, some fisherman say current regulations are good enough.

"If the fishermen don't stand up and come down here and fight for fisherman's rights now, we'll lose more than we can possibly ever imagine," said Makani Christensen, of the Hunting, Farming and Fishing Association.

For the north coast of Molokai, the state is asking for input on community-based subsistence fishing rules, but the proposed regulations are controversial.

"Our challenge is to find rules which are protective of the intent which is to provide for subsistence fishing for the community, but recognizing that these are state waters. It's a public resource and everyone has a right to be there," said Bruce Anderson, chief of the Aquatic Resources Division at the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In 2014 and 2015, Hawaii's reefs suffered major bleaching due to climate changes. While it's stabilized, more severe and frequent bleaching is predicted.

"In the 2030s, 30 to 50 percent of the years will have major bleaching events in Hawaii," said Kuulei Rogers, of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Hawaii scientists say management plans are in place, but there's no one solution to managing and protecting Hawaii's ocean's resources.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing, chairman of the Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources & Hawaiian Affairs, organized the briefing and said the consensus was that the governor's goal to protect 30 percent of nearshore fisheries by 2030 needs to have teeth. He said he'll introduce a mandate to establish a statewide network of marine-protected areas and he believes Hawaii should join every other state and issue non-commercial fishing licenses.

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