Since beginning in late March, a pilot nearshore waters enforcement unit of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources has made no arrests but has issued a dozen citations and taken an administrative action involving a fisherman's check-in requirement at Kahului Harbor, according to a DLNR announcement Wednesday.
So far, the project to protect ocean resources has issued citations for three prohibited lay-net violations, two violations for undersized mesh throw nets, two for undersized opihi, one each for undersized kumu and hee, one for a prohibited net in the Kahului Fisheries Management Area and two for exceeding bag limits, the department said.
Eight other investigations have been initiated.
"This Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit project is already showing us that an increased and regular (Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement) presence is helping to curb illegal activities that have the potential to hurt everyone, particularly our future generations, if our marine resources are left unprotected," said Randy Awo, administrator of the division.
The enforcement unit patrols a 13-mile stretch of the north Maui coastline from Hulu Island to Baldwin Beach Park. The patrol area extends 3 miles out to sea.
Three DOCARE officers - a Makai Watch coordinator, a program coordinator and a data manager - staff the patrol unit. Officials said they hope it will be the first of future units to be established statewide.
The community fisheries "officers focused their efforts on illegal netting activities via land and vessel patrols," Awo said. "The officers' ability to focus on a specific region of the coastline, both on land and sea, has allowed them to gain an intimate knowledge of the area, including its variety of fishing activities and users."
As part of the pilot project, increased patrols and surveillance were conducted at the Kahului Harbor Fisheries Management Area because of the presence of bait fish schools (mainly nehu and gold-spot herring). While on vessel patrol, officers have observed and issued citations for other violations, such as for diver safety flag requirements, DLNR officials said.
In other measures, officers retrieved two unattended illegal lay nets and one unattended illegal throw net, officials said. And, while off duty, the community fisheries supervisor observed ongoing spearfishing violations and coordinated a response with state conservation enforcement officers. The violator was apprehended and cited.
"The new fisheries enforcement unit aims to increase public awareness about the importance of ocean conservation and pono (correct) fishing activities on Maui. It also sends a message that we are serious about protecting the marine resources of Maui," said DLNR Chairman William Aila, Jr.
The new unit also is working to educate the community about conservation and proper fishing practices.
State officials provided educational materials and interacted with free divers at the recent "Dive with Dad" tournament at Baldwin Beach Park.
In June, state officials spoke with 12 high school students from across the state who were participating in Haleakala National Park's Pohai Maile internship program. And, the state community fisheries officials also participated in Makai Watch meetings and teleconferences.
Makai Watch volunteers will be formally trained by community fisheries officers to help provide public outreach and education to resource users as well as to serve as the "eyes and ears" of state conservation enforcement officers, DLNR officials said.