One day after William Aila Jr.‘s bid to run the state’s land department was delayed without discussion, the Senate went ahead and talked about why.

Sen. Clayton Hee — who pushed for the one-week deferral Tuesday — spoke up during a Senate floor session Wednesday to explain his concerns about Aila’s qualifications for the job.

Civil Beat was not present for the session and has requested a rush transcript from the Senate Clerk.1 Hee has not returned repeated messages and e-mails, and was not available when this reporter stopped by his office twice Wednesday afternoon.

However, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro — who represents Aila’s hometown of Waianae in the Senate and is vice chair on Hee’s Judiciary Committee — told Civil Beat Wednesday night that she spoke on the floor because “I just wanted to reassure Sen. Hee and anyone who has those doubts.”

Shimabukuro said Hee criticized Aila for allowing his secretary to take the blame for his financial disclosure filing arriving late at the Hawaii State Ethics Commission and for saying after his committee confirmation hearing that he’s held to a higher standard because he’s Native Hawaiian. Both stories were reported exclusively by Civil Beat.

But a significant part of Hee’s speech, according to Shimabukuro, focused on Aila’s failure to disclose that he held aquarium and commercial fishing permits when he testified against a proposed bill that would ban aquarium fishing in state waters. (Aila has said his testimony was based on Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources studies that show the fishery is sustainable. On Tuesday, Aila filed paperwork to surrender his permits.)

Hee questioned “whether we can trust {Aila’s) judgment and whether he’s coming from a place of environmental stewardship when he himself is a fisherman,” Shimabukuro said.

“What (Aila)’s always been known for is that he’s the gatekeeper here in Waianae and has worked tirelessly and has made enemies because he’s not afraid to say that you’ve gotta stop (over)fishing,” Shimabukuro said. “He’s a very, very well-respected authority when it comes to that. … William is not afraid to protect the fish and protect the resources.”

The debate on the floor also included statements of support for Aila from Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Malama Solomon, chair and vice chair of the Senate Water, Land and Housing Committee that unanimously recommended that Aila be confirmed, according to Shimabukuro.

At about the time of the Senate debate, Civil Beat was examining the documents that got Aila into hot water in the first place.

A review of some 15 years of reports filed by Aila to comply with his commercial marine license and aquarium fish permit shows that selling his catch has been more a hobby than part-time job for the longtime Waianae harbormaster.

Two dozen stacks of monthly catch reports provided by Aila show a man who has fished for sustenance, for religious purposes and occasionally for profit — and who has recorded his take even when not required by law.

The aquarium fish reports date back to 1993, but the entirety of Aila’s commercial aquarium fishing venture in that time occurred in the two-year stretch between March 1997 and February 1999. In that time, he caught and sold 232 specimens from species like achilles tang, clown tang, spotted boxfish and saddle black wrasse for a grand total of $634.25, according to his filings. His biggest monthly haul was May 1997, when he earned $190 from Hanauma Bay Aquariums and Rainbow Tropical Fish after two separate successful dives.

Aila’s commercial fishing operation is even more laid-back. While he took out his boat — the Tiffany Lynn — numerous times since the earliest record on file in 1997, he reported sales revenue just twice. Seven shibi weighing a total of 90 pounds were sold to Tamura’s for $184.37 after they were caught in April 1998 and May 1999, Aila’s records show.

That’s not to say he wasn’t a successful fisherman. In July 2000, Aila — or one of his friends — caught a 166-pound ahi off the Waianae coast, one report claims. In February 2009, he gave his entire catch away, except for a handful of fish that he wrote would be “given as Hookupu (gift or sacrifice) at Makua for thanks.” In August 2009, he wrote that he would use helmet shells to make pu (horn).

On Nov. 18, 2010 — just days before new Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced he would become DLNR chair — Aila, according to his last filing, went spearfishing and came back with 15 uu, 10 kole, two aweoweo and three hee.

Since he was appointed, Aila hasn’t had time to go fishing. And if he’s confirmed, it may be a while before he can go again.

Whether that happens should be decided next week.

1. The clerk said the session was not recorded on video or audio, and that a transcript could take days to prepare and double-check for accuracy. Civil Beat will publish the transcript in its entirety as soon as it’s received.

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