Molokai group seeking to preserve Mo‘omomi fishing

For the last two decades, community group Hui Malama o Mo’omomi has been managing Mo’omomi beach and its facilities on Molokai’s north shore.

The group conducts routine beach cleanups, hosts educational groups, manages use of the two pavilions, plants low-growing plants to control erosion runoff and lobbies the state Legislature for initiatives to “protect our aina.”

Now, they’re seeking to make it a community-based subsistence fishing area to preserve ancient fishing traditions for years to come.

“We started to realize there’s more users now. A lot of the users are not necessarily fishermen, (though) Mo’omomi was traditionally used only for fishing,” said Kelson “Mac” Poepoe, who founded the nonprofit group in 1993. “The purpose of designating this place is to make sure we have that fishing for the community . . . for generations and generations.”

On Monday, Poepoe will present a draft management plan that was submitted last year to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The department is in charge of drafting formal rules for state-recognized community-based subsistence fishing areas.

The community meeting is scheduled from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Mitchell Pauole Community Center in Kaunakakai.

The proposal designates all the marine waters up to one mile off the northwest coast of Molokai, from ‘Ilio Point on the west to Kaholaiki Bay on the east, as part of the subsistence fishing area.

The plan recommends regulation of fishing activities that “are incompatible with sustainable use of the inshore subsistence fishery”; monitoring and enforcement done in collaboration with community and state officials; training volunteer community members to be resource managers; and education of novice fishermen in sustainable fishing methods and conservation ethics.

“Fishing is interwoven with all aspects of community life and cultural identity,” the draft plan states. “According to a survey conducted by the Governor’s Molokai Subsistence Task Force in 1994, 38 percent of the food consumed by residents of Hawaiian ancestry is produced by subsistence activities.”

Shortly after the task force’s Molokai study in 1994, the state Legislature adopted a process for designating community-based subsistence fishing areas. Haena on Kauai and Miloli’i on Hawaii island are the state’s only recognized community-based subsistence fishing areas, DLNR officials said.

“We facilitate the process of this designation, and we work with communities to try to provide feedback to help them through the process,” said Erin Zanre, DLNR community-based subsistence fishing area planner. “Our job is to listen and make sure all sides are being heard.”

The community-based subsistence fishing area designation process is a long one, and the department is developing and standardizing its procedures.

Zanre said it often takes several years to acquire the designation, and even the two state-recognized areas on Kauai and Hawaii island have not submitted a community management plan.

“The key here is this is really community-driven. It’s like, ‘This is our area, and within this area this is how we’d like the fisheries to be managed,'” said Russell Sparks, education specialist with the state department’s Division of Aquatic Resources. “The community comes up with their own plans of resource management for the marine resources . . . as long as what they want to do is within our authority, we create formal rules for the community.”

The 921-acre Mo’omomi Preserve, created in 1988 and formally managed by the state department and by The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, has been touted as “one of the last remaining strongholds for native coastal plants and animals in Hawaii, a holdover from an ancient era.”

Strong, steady northeast trade winds create linear dunes a mile long and hundreds of feet wide. The preserve harbors more than 22 native Hawaiian plant species, four of which like the ‘akoko and ‘ena ‘ena – are globally rare or endangered.

It is also an important nesting site for the endangered green sea turtle, and native bird species such as the Hawaiian owl (pueo) and the wedge-tailed shearwater.

The preserve is the most intact beach and sand dune area in the main Hawaiian Islands, according to The Nature Conservancy website.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at