KAHULUI - "Nuts," "ridiculous" and "a gross violation of my Native Hawaiian rights" were just a few of the terms fishermen used to describe state-proposed rule changes that involve stricter bag and size limits for popular nearshore reef fish like uhu, jacks and goatfish.
The public hearing held Thursday night at Maui Waena Intermediate School drew more than 150 people - mostly lifelong residents who've lived and fished off the island for as long as they can remember. Testimony gathered will be reviewed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources as it considers adopting or amending the proposed rule changes for Maui and Lanai island fisheries, Division of Aquatic Resources officials said.
"I sick and tired of these rules and regulations," said Eugene Tihada, 70, who was born and raised in Lahaina. "I been diving all my life and now you telling me I can catch five moi? You get one school moi, you going get about 50 to 100 fish. All the dead fish on the net, you telling me I gotta throw back and I can take home five? Let's get real. This is our home. You taking everything we brought up. You changing my generation."
Fisherman Eugene Tihada, 70, testifies against proposed bag limits Thursday night during a meeting with state officials at Maui Waena Intermediate School. Born and raised in Lahaina, Tihada said he’s been fishing off Maui’s shores for his lifetime, and the proposed rule would be “changing my generation.”
The Maui News / EILEEN CHAO photo
More than 150 residents, mostly fishermen, crowded into Maui Waena Intermediate School’s cafeteria Thursday night to provide testimony on the proposed fishing rule changes. Nearly all opposed them.
The Maui News / EILEEN CHAO photo
The proposed rule changes put bag limits on a number of species that were previously unregulated, such as the aweoweo and paku'iku'i (proposed no more than five per person per day); aholehole, kole, manini and menpachi (proposed no more than 20 per day); and female uhu, moano kali, munu and mu (proposed no more than two per person per day). Fishermen were previously allowed to take 20 combined ulua and papio, or jacks, but the proposed rules only allows a combined total of five.
In addition, none of the large blue parrotfish (uhu 'ele'ele and uhu uliuli) may be taken at any time, and no more than two of the other varieties of uhu per fisherman may be taken in a day.
For a full list of the proposed rule changes, visit state.hi.us/dlnr/dar/index.html.
"Community concern is a major driver for these fishery rule updates," Russell Sparks, a state aquatic biologist, said at an Oct. 16 public meeting.
Decreased species populations throughout the state, increased commercial harvesting and overgrowth of invasive seaweed, which reef fish feed on, were just some of the reasons cited for the proposed changes.
The division held three rounds of public scoping meetings beginning in January 2009, as well as small stakeholder meetings within the community, Sparks said. In addition, more than 1,000 questionnaires were circulated at fishing tournaments, gas stations, stores and other areas. The division only received back 128 surveys, which showed that 70 percent were supportive of the proposed changes.
But residents Thursday argued that to base islandwide rule changes on only 128 surveys is "ridiculous," and an alternative survey circulated by the community opposing the proposed rules garnered close to 600 signatures in just two weeks.
"The petition basically says we do not support the proposed rules, and more discussion with the community is needed," said Aha Moku o Maui Chief Executive Officer Ke'eaumoku Kapu, who waved the petition as he testified before DLNR officials Thursday.
More than 300 signatures came from the Hana district, and Kapu said he expects to gather more than 1,000 signatures islandwide by December. He said the state should consult with the Aha Moku councils knowledgeable in the traditional Hawaiian system of natural resource management to come up with solutions that are practical and respectful of the people who actually use and depend on the resource.
"It was evident last night that everybody was angry," Kapu told The Maui News on Friday. "In order to alleviate that anger and frustration, we need somebody who can speak and advocate for the people to sit at the table and voice the community's concern."
A similar petition, circulated by Maui Casting Fishing Club President Gary Hashizuki, has garnered "at least more than 128 signatures" as well, Hashizuki said.
"This (proposed rule change) is the weirdest thing. We was born over here on this island, and you only gonna give us 20 menpachis?" Kula resident Chris Corpuz asked. "If I catch extra, I give to my elders who cannot go fishing, my grandfather, grandmother, all the old-timers that used to go fishing. I give from the heart. I don't expect to get nothing back."
Others argued that the right to throw-net and gather is a protected Native Hawaiian right that is centuries old, and the proposed rule changes threaten to sever the passing of the practice of native tradition and culture to future generations.
"It's almost like, 'No, you cannot live your Hawaiian way of life anymore, go to the restaurant and pay $32 for your lobster now, or go get uhu from somebody else and share with them,' " resident Kehaulani Correia told state officials. "I understand we want to save the fish, and old Hawaiians are willing to teach you how to preserve coral and keep the wildlife going. Look for different ways that will work for our culture, our people and our kids in the long run."
A handful of environmentalists testified in support of the proposal, with a few even asking for more stringent regulations to preserve the existing fish population, but the residents - many of whose families have been living on Maui for generations - said it was not the fishermen who were causing fish population depletion, but invasive species, run-off from large corporations, recreational sports and others.
"There are so many variables affecting our shorelines right now, but to attack one variable, the fishermen, is wrong," said Harry Matsuura, an avid fisherman and diver who been diving off Maui's shores for more than 56 years. "Other variables are doing more damage than we are - the invasive species like the taape, the limu, run-off from the land, herbicides, pesticides, big shopping malls and the garbage that goes into our shoreline. I can take you to certain areas where I put my hand on the rock and go down 3 or 4 inches to pull out the soot on the reef. This has nothing to do with us taking the fish, this is man destroying our own land.
"Before you attack the people and take food from our mouths, address these other variables first," Matsuura said.
Other residents echoed that it was the windsurfers, kitesurfers, dive charters and sunblock that were killing the nearshore reefs and ecosystems.
"We need to look at the water run-off, dive boats throwing anchors on the reefs, sunblock going into the water," said shoreline fisherman Dane Pacheco. "I love being able to feed my family, knowing where my food comes from. If this law gets passed, I won't be able to do that, my son won't be able to do that."
Written testimony will be accepted through Dec. 6 by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Division of Aquatic Resources, 130 Mahalani St., Wailuku 96793.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.