Papahanaumokuakea belongs to all of us and the expansion will benefit us for generations to come. It will help to protect Hawaii resources from the likes of federal fishery managers, who allowed commercial lobster fishers to take juvenile and egg-bearing lobsters from waters around our Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after the lobster fishery crashed not once, but twice.

This blatant disregard of the sustainability of Hawaii resources for the sake of profit guided my decision to draft a management plan for the area. That plan helped result in the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, the world’s largest marine protected area, in 2000. After the reserve was established, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac) applied propaganda in an attempt to kill the reserve. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Learn more about Wespac, the “cats” who run the fish house, here.

A male Hawaiian Pigfish is seen at 320 feet at Kure Atoll, which is 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu inside the boundaries of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
A male Hawaiian Pigfish is seen at 320 feet at Kure Atoll, which is 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu inside the boundaries of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Courtesy: NOAA

Learning Malama Aina

The value of malama aina (care for that which feeds) is born in many of us in Hawaii from a young age. I started fishing in the shallow waters of Nanakuli when I was 7 years old, under the guidance of my uncle Palani Ku’uku. I was his haumana (student). I observed his free-dive fish spearing skills as I carried his kui (fish-carrying implement) as I swam alongside him. Within a few years, I was diving and spearing fish and hee (octopus) myself to help my mom feed my brothers and sisters.

I thought it would please my mom, the last pure maoli (aboriginal Hawaiian) in my ohana, if I could bring home more fish. My mom became a struggling single parent after my father passed away in 1964.

I knew from observing others that I could catch a lot more fish using a gill-net than I could using a spear, so I eventually saved enough money to buy one for $10 and learned how to use it. I was proud of myself when I made my first catch of anae (large mullet) to take home to mom, who in her wisdom scolded me because I brought home more fish than we needed. After the scolding, my mom shared a lesson with me that she learned from her kupuna (elders). I learned that our natural resources, including fish, belong to the future, and that we may borrow what we need, but our kuleana (responsibility) is to care for the fish to insure they are available for the future. Taking too much, as I did, was contrary to my kuleana to the future.

Later in life, I learned that the belief in malama and malama aina was in practice in Hawaii long before I came along. The people of old Hawaii held that overharvesting natural resources threatened the survival of future generations. This helped me understand why a person and his or her ohana (family) could be banished from a village, or even put to death for breaking kapu (laws) protecting the natural resources.

If you threaten the natural resources, you threaten the survival of everyone’s future generations, including your own. I am proud to pass this knowledge on to my descendants and others because it is my kuleana and a lesson we should all know.

Pulling Money Out Of The Ocean

Sadly, the opposite of malama is happening in the ocean around Hawaii, where a wave of greed has rolled in. Commercial longliners put on humanitarian hats and boast that they are family-run businesses, create jobs and feed local families, which stretches the truth. Some of their fish does feed local families, but only those who can afford the high-priced fish. They do indeed create jobs, with over 75 percent of the jobs going to foreign nationals. Much of the fish caught goes to feed the tourist and fish-export industries, while some longline boat owners act as though the ocean around Hawaii is their private property to exploit as they please.

Their motivation is not to create local jobs or to feed local families; their motivation is to pull money out of our ocean to put into their pockets.

International agreements designed to malama overfished stocks like bigeye tuna in the Central and Western Pacific established an annual quota system to allocate a fair share of bigeye by area.

Bigeye tuna
Last year, Hawaii longliners bought quotas from the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa to catch more bigeye tuna. Courtesy of NOAA

In 2015, the Hawaii bigeye tuna quota was set at 3,500 metric tons. One would think that 77 million pounds of tuna would be more than enough for Hawaii, but it wasn’t. Hawaii longliners caught Hawaii’s quota by August 2015, so a deal was struck to purchase 1,000 tons of the 2,000-ton Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands quota. That quota was caught by Hawaii longliners in November 2015, so another deal was struck to purchase 1,000 tons of Guam’s 2,000-ton quota. Yet another deal was stuck with American Samoa for a portion of their quota. Hawaii longliners purchased bigeye tuna shares from three different Pacific island areas, but they did not go to those areas to catch those shares. They continued to fish around Hawaii.

It’s worth taking a minute to understand that our ocean waters are swarming with large-scale fishing efforts. In 2014, the latest available federal data showed that 47.1 million hooks were deployed by Hawaii-based longliners. The data came from longliners’ own logbooks at the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center. Their main target is bigeye tuna (ahi), which is known to be in an overfishing condition. Of the 47.1 million hooks, 8.4 million were set in the Hawaiian Main Islands Exclusive Economic Zone, while 2.5 million were set in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands EEZ.

The assault by large-scale fishing interests on marine resources around Hawaii has been typical for the last few decades. Hawaii longliners report that only 5 percent of their catch comes from around our Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, so excluding them from that area will have no impact on them, since they can continue fishing everywhere else. They should easily be able to catch the 5 percent elsewhere, since they nearly doubled their 2015 quota by buying other shares.

A Public Trust

The ocean is a public trust resource for the many, not for the personal gain of a few. The longline fishing issue is no different from the land-based issues in which corporations divert our stream waters for their personal gain. They too put on their humanitarian hats and boast of creating jobs and export commodities, but their motivation is the same: to put money into their pockets at the expense of the resource owners, the people of Hawaii. Fish, like our fresh water, belong to all of the people. These are our public trust resources.

A school of Elegant Anthias (Caprodon unicolor), one of the most common fishes at 320 feet, Kure Atoll. These are Hawaiian endemic fishes (not known from anywhere else on Earth except Hawaii). Deep reefs at Kure Atoll were discovered to have the highest levels of endemism known from any marine ecosystem on Earth.
A school of Elegant Anthias (Caprodon unicolor), one of the most common fishes at 320 feet, Kure Atoll. These are Hawaiian endemic fishes (not known from anywhere else on Earth except Hawaii). Deep reefs at Kure Atoll were discovered to have the highest levels of endemism known from any marine ecosystem on Earth. NOAA

As a small boat lawaia (fisher), one of the best pleasures I have is to give fish away to family and friends, especially to kupuna who can’t afford to buy fish. This gifting of fish is typical for many of our small boat lawaia in Hawaii. Some sell fish on the side of the road for often less than half of what the stores charge, others drop off fish to small stores around the islands to sell, and some sell directly to middlemen such as wholesalers and restaurants. The price of locally caught fish is normally less than the longline-caught fish, the fish is fresher and our techniques do not affect threatened and endangered species.

Reducing longline fishing near Hawaii would provide a greater opportunity for ahi and other open ocean species like mahimahi, ono and marlin to reach local fishers, who inject a significant amount of money into Hawaii’s economy. Typical small boat fishers need to buy a boat, fishing equipment, fuel, ice, bait, etc., and that money trickles down to many areas of our community. When we compare the economic benefits, it is clear that small boat fishers contribute more to our local economy with far less impact to our fish stocks that longliners could ever do. Keeping the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands corridor free of longlines should allow more pelagic fish like ahi, mahimahi, ono and marlin to reach the main islands, where they would be accessible to small boat lawaia and benefit the many rather than the few.

Claims are being made by those who don’t want to see the monument expanded; and these need clearing up.

It should be said that a large boat and a lot of money for fuel, gear, bait, ice and other supplies is needed to get out to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and haul back enough fish just to break even, let alone make a profit. But for those that have the needed skills, crew, and equipment, the current proposed expansion released by Sen. Brian Schatz does not extend any closer to Kaua‘i, leaves Middle Bank as it is, and leaves the weather buoy north of Nihoa open, all for the benefit of non-longline commercial fishing. Some people claim that they haven’t been consulted. However, it is clear that this proposal took into consideration those who chose to weigh in.

We Want Public Hearings

Although hearings are not required under the Antiquities Act, Hawaiians like me, who support the proposed expansion, are calling on President Obama to hold public hearings in Hawaii before he takes action on the proposal. Like in 2000, when the Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was established, those proposing the expansion are again supporting public input.

The existing subsistence rules for the monument were modeled after those adopted for Kahoolawe, where cultural practitioners can sustain themselves while visiting the island for cultural activities. The rules prevent abuse of this privilege by commercial fishing interests. Existing subsistence fishing rules for Papahanaumokuakea require that fish caught there be consumed there. It is a far stretch to believe anyone would travel hundreds of miles across the open ocean for subsistence fishing. Regardless, I am willing to discuss the current subsistence rules with anyone with a valid concern.

Regarding military activity in the area, designating a larger monument will not grant the military the ability to increase their activity in the area, since they already have full access. The federal government already controls the area and expanding the monument could result in a refocus on how they control it. The expansion could encourage the United States to reassess military activity in the area and it will give us better footing to call for a halt to military activity harmful to the marine environment.

Rather than the destruction that the U.S. military is famous for around Hawaii, they could become a partner in protecting this special area by using passive surveillance equipment to monitor for poachers, in addition to addressing their fear of hostile military threats from the sea. This area should be designated a quiet zone, where ship traffic is discouraged so that marine life can escape the non-stop impacts of the world’s noisy seas. Hawaii needs this, the world needs this, but most of all the marine life needs this.

The fact is that we really don’t know what we have out there, as evidenced by continual new discoveries. Hawaii’s deep-sea resources, such as many newly discovered species including corals confirmed to be over 4,500 years old, seabed minerals sought after by ocean mining corporations and breeding grounds for local stocks of pelagic species deserve a puuhonua (a place of refuge) to shield them from man’s ever-growing lust for profit. The “precautionary approach” is a term wielded by many natural resource managers; so for once, let’s take the precautionary approach before we cause unintentional harm that we may never be able to repair.

Will the expansion help President Obama’s legacy? Perhaps, but the bottom line is that expanding the protected area is the right thing to do. Mahalo!

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