Fish are my livelihood. I’ve studied them as a scientist. I’ve watched them get pulled up from the ocean into longline fishing boats as an official observer.

And now I’m running a social impact business called Local Ia, which supports local small-scale fishermen by buying their catch and distributing bundles of seafood to markets and individuals across the island of Oahu. It’s like community supported agriculture, only this is community supported fishing.

As a marine biologist, I know that a thriving ocean ecosystem depends on the health of all its living components. As a business owner, it’s the economics of fish that matter to me — and if I’m going to keep my day job, the health of the fishery has to be my biggest priority.

An Expand Papahanaummokuakea supporter holds a sign during Fishing Means Food rally held in the Capitol Rotunda. 26 july 2016

A supporter of Papahanaumokuakea’s controversial expansion holds a sign in opposition to a Fishing Means Food rally held in the Capitol Rotunda earlier this month.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That’s why I believe that expanding the size of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument would not only protect critical ocean resources at a time when they’re under threat, it would also be the best thing in the long run for fishermen and lovers of Hawaii seafood.

After years of scientific study, we know that the primary advantage of large-scale marine reserves is that they give fish, marine mammals, seabirds and all the other inhabitants of a healthy ocean ecosystem a place of shelter. This space acts as a kind of nursery, allowing fish a chance to reproduce, grow and then spread out to repopulate surrounding areas.

Moreover, such reserves create safe harbors for rare and threatened species of plants and animals that we haven’t even fully come to understand yet.

The primary advantage of large-scale marine reserves is that they give fish, marine mammals, seabirds and all the other inhabitants of a healthy ocean ecosystem a place of shelter.

The longline fishing industry, which unfortunately, is against this expansion, only spends 5 percent of its effort in the area that would be protected if President Barack Obama expands Papahanaumokuakea from its current 50-mile radius of protection to the full 200 miles it could encompass. These large commercial vessels can surely make up the small portion of their efforts in the other areas that they fish.

But in any case, if you want the absolute freshest ahi, then you can turn to your local day boat fishers who bring in fish that was landed just hours before, yet is often sold at a competitive price because the market can become saturated with longline product.

The effort to extend Papahanaumokuākea comes at an important time. It’s no secret that our oceans are under stress. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing are all contributing factors, but the net result is that prime fish habitats are declining and disappearing, while too many of the largest fish are being removed to support effective replenishment of the stocks. If we don’t change these trends, our children won’t have access to the same bounty of the ocean that we now enjoy.

There isn’t any one, single solution to all these problems, which are sure to continue to challenge generations of fishermen to come. But by expanding Papahanaumokuakea, we will help create a sustainable marine environment that offers resilience in the face of climate change and the possibility of rejuvenating fish populations that might otherwise decline.

This not only helps protect the ocean for its own sake, it makes good business sense for people like me, and it benefits all those who love to catch and eat our wonderful local seafood.

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