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Nonprofit seeks protected fishing area for Kipahulu

Designation would help regulate overharvesting, residents say

Volunteers conduct an opihi survey in Kipahulu Moku by Kipahulu Valley. The group Kipahulu ‘Ohana is proposing the creation of a community-based subsistence fishing area to regulate traditional harvesting and fishing. Photo courtesy of Scott Crawford

East Maui residents are proposing the creation of a protected fishing area for Kipahulu to help regulate harvesting practices and increased foot traffic and to protect depleting resources that once fully sustained nearby communities.

The nonprofit Kipahulu ‘Ohana said that designating Kipahulu Moku nearshore waters as a community-based subsistence fishing area will address problems around unsustainable fishing practices, such as collecting fish, limu and ‘opihi out of season; taking more than is needed and available; or hunting undersized species.

“The emphasis really is on education and helping people to understand the reason for the rules, and they’ll want to participate and comply because it will make sense for protecting the resources for the traditional lifestyle and so that the resources are there for future generations,” Executive Director Scott Crawford said during a Zoom presentation Tuesday night. “If there really are bad actors who are abusing the situation and where the enforcement needs to come into play, then there would be a way of knowing how to collect that information — take pictures and document what is happening — in a way that enforcement would be able to use that information.”

Kipahulu Moku covers about 12,000 acres in an area of East Maui full of families who have continued traditional but modernized fishing, farming and hunting.

Over the past decade, Maui residents and visitors have been “overusing” Kipahulu’s resources and leaving trash, furthering the need for an action plan that would mitigate future damage, said Kane Lind, equipment manager and program assistant.

Kipahulu ‘Ohana is proposing a set of regulations for traditional harvesting and fishing in Kipahulu moku to protect the resources for future generations.

“It’s like a road that everybody drives over but nobody fixes it. Nature can’t fix itself, people have to realize it,” Lind said. “If you take too much then you’re not going to get much. . . . One of the reasons we got to have a CBSFA is to learn to self-regulate.”

The proposed marine management area within Kipahulu Moku spans from the high-water mark on shore to about 197 feet (60 meters) in depth, according to Kipahulu ‘Ohana’s letter of inquiry for the CBSFA. The area includes 4.5 miles of coastline from Kalepa Gulch to Pua’alu’u Gulch, “encompassing about 1,670 acres of rocky beach and patch coral reefs.”

Nonprofit leaders noted the unsustainable harvest of fish, limu and ‘opihi as the most pressing issues in the area. Proposed regulations would apply to each person’s catch per day – for example, by limiting ula, kala and ‘omilu possession to two each.

While there’s no state bag limit on ‘opihi collection, the proposal seeks to limit individuals to a half-gallon bag (shell on), which is roughly 40 to 50 ‘opihi.

There would be no taking of marine life while free diving between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. Other regulations include gear restrictions for nets, hooks and scuba equipment, fishing season closures and size limits, how to appropriately harvest limu and more.

Lelekea Bay, located near the small Kipahulu community, is among the sites being monitored. Photo courtesy of Scott Crawford

Kipahulu ‘Ohana co-founder Uncle John Lind, also a longtime Kipahulu farmer, fisherman and hunter, said it’s important to educate the fishermen that frequent the area “so they understand what they got there.”

“I think if we can learn to regulate ourselves and others, then we can get ahead, but I think the state can help us do that,” he said. “We can help them and they can help us.”

The nonprofit has been conducting outreach and education activities over the years to share information with the community about how to maintain a healthy ecosystem and also to gain support for the CBSFA designation, Crawford explained.

In April 2016, Kipahulu ‘Ohana submitted a letter of inquiry to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources and got approval to move forward with the process in July 2016.

The nonprofit submitted the Kipahulu Moku CBSFA Proposal and Management Plan to DLNR in October 2019 and has since been gathering community input.

This spring, the DLNR will begin to hold informational meetings and finalize rules, and by the summer, a request for public hearings will be submitted, Crawford said.

By 2022, Kipahulu ‘Ohana hopes to have gained approval from state agencies and the governor to start enforcing CBSFA regulations.

Through education and outreach, Kipahulu ‘Ohana’s goal is to help habitats and fish populations to stabilize or recover, Crawford said.

“One of the reasons I’m super supportive of the CBSFA is because I feel like it’s really natural, listening to the kupunas and hearing about what they feel needs to be protected and how to protect it,” said Laura Campbell, who’s on the board of directors. “Their input being such a big part of this process, it feels like such a natural thing, it should be happening everywhere, and I just feel like who else to try to make regulations but the kupunas and the generational fishermen of the area?

“We need to follow them because they are the people who are knowledgeable.”

Some attendees during the presentation Tuesday night were concerned about how the regulations would be enforced or how individuals would be monitored.

The organization explained that enforcement is already limited in Kipahulu even with current state regulations due to its remote location and limited staffing.

Campbell said that “I don’t think we’ll be able to fully regulate everything,” but that the CBSFA would lay the groundwork for any communication with Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers in the future if more enforcement beyond self-regulation is needed.

“I think it’s important to protect what we have, always,” she added. “If we have support and we are able to push this project through, then we will have the support to make people try, and educate people how to fish like we do in our community.”

Whether Kipahulu is used for recreational activities like swimming or for subsistence, Auntie Tweetie Lind, Kipahulu ‘Ohana co-founder and Kipahulu Kitchen program manager, said she just wants everyone to understand the importance of the land and its resources for “our existence, our protection.”

“We all have the idea in the back of our head about what could be done and what should be done. It’s more like respecting those that come in, and those that come in must respect it,” she said. “All we ask is for respect and give us time to put things together, and then maybe down the road we can correct it.”

Kipahulu ‘Ohana manages a 9-acre parcel of state-leased land for agriculture, the Kipahulu Kitchen, Kipahulu Living Farm, the Cable Ridge Native Forest Restoration Project, ahupua’a restoration and the Malama I Ke Kai program.

Since 1995, the nonprofit has formed local, national and international partnerships to manage the farm and programs, including with the DLNR, Haleakala National Park and the state Department of Health.

For more information, visit kipahulu.org.

The next virtual meeting to discuss the CBSFA designation is set for 10 a.m. Saturday. To register, visit kipahulu.org/cbsfa.

A 9-minute video presentation is also available on the website that explains Kipahulu ‘Ohana’s vision, code of conduct and proposed rules.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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