An initiative to streamline the permitting process for fishpond restoration in Hawaii cleared a major hurdle Friday.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources passed a Master Conservation District Use Permit, which will enable Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and community groups to obtain a single permit for fishpond restoration work in fewer than six months. The current process for restoration work involves having to obtain 17 separate permits from 12 different agencies and can take more than five years.
"For decades, the effort to restore traditional fishponds has been obstructed by a highly complex multiagency permitting scheme," BLNR Chairman William Aila said in a statement. "Today, we took a huge leap in making restoration and conservation more feasible for grass-roots communities."
The program was funded by Conservation International and Hawaii Fish Trust and completed by Honua Consulting with support from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and other agencies, according to a news release from the department.
The next step will be for the issuance of a similar programmatic permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the news release said. Department officials expect the U.S. Army Corps permit to be issued within one month.
"This is very positive news for fishpond practitioners and will make it so much easier for all of us to speed through the paperwork so we can concentrate more on the stonework," said Joylynn Paman, executive director of 'Ao'ao O Na Loko I'a O Maui (the Association of the Fishponds of Maui). It took the group of mostly volunteers more than five years and $5,000 to hire a consultant to sort through the confusing permitting process for restoration work at the Ko'ie'ie Fishpond in Kihei.
Historical records show that there were once as many as 400 functioning fishponds in Hawaii, although most have fallen into disrepair due to neglect, land erosion, natural disasters and invasive species.
But over the last couple of decades, increasing attention has been focused on the loko i'a (fisphond) as a symbol of ancient Hawaiian traditions and culture.
"Hawaiian fishponds are a way of connecting our people to our culture," Paman told The Maui News in an earlier interview. "By us revitalizing the wall, we're able to revitalize our culture as well."
For more information, visit hawaii.gov/dlnr/occl.