Maui fishers mull prospects of new licensing, permit or registry system

Hawaii is the only coastal U.S. state without a method to cover noncommercial fishing practices

Maui fishers expressed mixed views over possible noncommercial marine fishing registry, permit or licensing systems in Hawaii, following meetings on a study that explored the systems.

Conservation International Hawaii and the Western Pacific Fishery Council shared findings from a 2016 joint fact-finding study group that researched the feasibility and implications of the various systems Tuesday night at the Cameron Center in Wailuku. A meeting was held on Molokai on Wednesday. A meeting on Lanai will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lanai Community Center.

Hawaii is the only coastal U.S. state without a mandatory noncommercial marine fishing registry, permit or license or RPL system, because previous attempts to enact a system were not successful, according to the study’s executive summary.

The study group did not identify a preferred alternative or say if a system should be implemented. But it concluded there are no legal or constitutional barriers in Hawaii that would prohibit the implementation of such a system. Also, a system could be designed that would not violate Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights protected under Hawaii law, the study said.

“I’m all for a free fishing license,” said longtime diver Darrell Tanaka, who attended the Tuesday meeting. “We should have (free) fishing license. Not everyone knows the rules. Not everyone is compliant. A fishing license can really help with education.”

Tanaka said that with a hunting license, everyone needs to take a class to understand rules and regulations. The fishing license also could have a class and perhaps the fishing license test and education material could be available online.

“Basically it’s an opportunity for the state to give a regulation handbook to every fisherman.”

Tanaka said that with a license the state and lawmakers would have a count of how many fishers there are in the Hawaii and know “how many people they are affecting” when making laws along with rules and regulations.

“It puts fishermen on the map,” Tanaka added.

The study notes various surveys done to identify the number of noncommercial fishers in Hawaii. Numbers vary and may range up to 396,000.

Tanaka isn’t so enthused about having a license fee because fishers believe they already pay taxes and “you never know when a fee could be a little bit too much for somebody.”

But he added that nonresidents who fish on different islands could be charged a fee to fish outside of their hometowns.

Another longtime fisherman, Gary Hashizaki, president of the Maui Casting Club, said that in general “people don’t want” to pay for a license or a permit because they are used to fishing for free.

But if a system needs to be in place and if a fee needs to be charged, Hashizaki said he hopes the state would use that money to help fishers.

“I don’t think it’s going to break your pocket, but if they can use the money for benefit the fishermen, not like use it for rail,” said Hashizaki, who also attended the Maui meeting with about 60 other people.

But Hashizaki said he was concerned about fees hurting younger fishermen, such as his adult son. As a senior citizen, Hashizaki said it is possible that his fees could be waived.

Following the statewide meetings that wrap up on Oahu next week, a community report will be put together reflecting what was said by all at the meetings, said Aarin Gross, senior program manager for policy and operations for Conservation International Hawaii. The report will be shared with people who attended the meetings and provided an email address and those who were interested.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources will receive the report to help the department decide what type of proposal to present to the Legislature next year, said David Sakoda, a program specialist with the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Sakoda said the DLNR could, through the governor’s office, introduce a bill to give the department permission to implement a registration, permit or license system.

“Right now it’s wait and see,” Sakoda said.

He said that implementing some type of system could help the state manage fisheries better now and into the future. But the department would await the response from the community.

Sakoda and several other DLNR officials provided input into the study.

He said that in the past when proposals were made to implement some type of registration, permit or licensing system there were many questions that could not be answered.

“This study aimed at answering those questions, so we can move past those hurdles and start thinking of whether a system could be implemented,” Sakoda added.

Just last legislative session, there were two bills that proposed some type of system. The bills, put forward by legislators and not the state DLNR, both died, Sakoda said.

He said that fishers pointed to waiting for the 2016 study to be released before any decisions were made.

The study group was made up of fishery resource managers, experts and representatives from fisher organizations and nongovernmental groups.

The group focused on evaluating any potential RPL system based on its ability to meet three primary objectives: provide additional and more robust data to support fishery management; foster two-way dialogue between fishers and managers by identifying the universe of noncommercial fishers in Hawaii; and developing approved communication pathways along with creating a source of independent continuous funding to support effective fisheries management.

The group analyzed five RPL systems and came up of list of pros and cons.

For example, if the existing system were continued, marine fishing would still be free, but officials would not know how many people were fishing and would have a hard time managing fisheries.

If there were a free registry system, it would give a count of who is fishing and enhance outreach and education. But it would be difficult to get compliance and no revenue would be gained for administering the system.

A fee-based license with fee waivers or reductions for certain categories of fishers would produce more data on fishers and generate a new revenue source. But the system with fee waivers or reduced fees could be more complicated and require more funds to institute and maintain.

A low fee license with permits, stamps or tags at additional charge would identify a more complete universe of fishers and generate a new revenue source. But the system may be complicated and confusing and could infringe on cultural rights.

A free license with permits, stamps or tags at additional charge would capture basic information of all fishers while adding information about specific activities. But the revenues may not cover implementation costs and could be seen as unfair in targeting certain activities.

As for the system impacting Native Hawaiian rights and practices, the study says that the intent of the system would be to provide adequate data on fishery health and potentially fund additional monitoring and enforcement efforts, which is a form of “malama” conservation and stewardship aligned with Hawaiian cultural beliefs and practices.

It adds that a RPL system can respect and protect Native Hawaiian rights by having some sort of identification for the Native group to alert state officials patrolling state waters that the individuals are exercising their protected rights.

The practice right holders also could be exempted from fees associated with the systems when conducting the practices, but may be subject to the same rules while fishing in other areas not associated with the cultural practices, the study said.

To view the report, visit www.wpcouncil.org/rpl-report/.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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