Despite overwhelming testimony in opposition, a measure is moving forward in the Senate.

When overfishing badly depleted stocks off Kauai’s northwestern shore, subsistence fishermen and their families teamed with environmental regulators to draw up new rules designating Haena as Hawaii’s first Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area.


It was a long time coming. Twenty years of research and advocacy work preceded the state’s endorsement in August 2015 of rules written by the community that limited fishing poles to two, forbid commercial fishing and the use of spear guns, and set bag limits for urchins, octopus and lobster.

Haena fishermen and state scientists who now monitor these protected waters have since reported healthier, more vibrant fisheries due in part to a shift back to traditional management practices. 

“That’s what kept our kupuna alive, not Matson boats bringing in food,” said Presley Wann, president of the nonprofit Hui Makaainana o Makana, which aims to restore Native Hawaiian values and stewardship practices in Haena. “We survived and thrived and the key was adaptive management, not one shoe fits all.”

Similar community-driven efforts at Moomomi on Molokai and Milolii on the Big Island enshrine ecological practices, such as the art of pono fishing, to sustainably manage nearshore waters. A proposed CBSFA in Kipahulu on Maui would generate its own unique rules to follow suit.

Now a bill that aims to restrict the lifespan of Hawaii’s CBSFAs is making its way through the Legislature. It would affect all the fishing areas by placing a yet-to-be-determined sunset date on them, and a provision was added that specifically repeals the Haena CBSFA.

“It would essentially undo decades of work,” said Wayne Tanaka, executive director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. “It’s completely perplexing why they would take away a community’s ability to maintain their resources using intimate knowledge and science and values and practices that’s been passed down for generations.”

The Haena and Moomomi CBSFAs jointly won an international award in 2019 for innovative, nature-based solutions for tackling climate change, marking the first time that the prestigious Equator Prize has been awarded to Indigenous communities in the United States. (Contributed: Kehau Springer/2019)

The Senate Water and Land Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 92 earlier this month despite receiving 17 times the amount of testimony against the measure as for it. 

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who chairs the committee, endorsed adding a sunset date for CBSFA designations at a Feb. 1 public hearing, saying that laws in general shouldn’t remain open-ended.

“I’m kind of worried about Hawaii, where we’re going, because there’s going to be a point in time … where I think fisheries should open up,” she said.

The proposed change in the law seeks to foster greater flexibility so that management of nearshore water resources can adapt to a community’s changing desires or needs. But the bill’s opponents say such safeguards are already in place. 

“It’s an ugly bill and I think there’s good reason to try and get it killed this session,” said Mahesh Cleveland, a senior associate attorney at Earthjustice‘s Honolulu office. “It just seems like whoever’s in control of this bill is trying to attack the CBSFA’s from any angle possible.”

The premise that the bill serves to address how community needs and desires change over time is “a strawman,” Cleveland said, because adaptability is baked into the CBSFA design.

The DLNR or anyone in the community can petition to amend the existing administrative rules that govern a CBSFA, or petition to promulgate new rules, he said. As such, the rules are by nature flexible to a changing climate or shifting community desires or demographics.

The proposed bill would grant the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s CBSFAs in tandem with community members, the option to keep these designated areas operating beyond the sunset date. In the interim, the agency would be required to submit regular progress reports to the Legislature and other stakeholders. 

The Haena CBSFA is already required by statute to provide a report to the Legislature at the five-, 10- and 20-year marks. The process started last year but officials said it was delayed due to Covid.

Haena’s Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area includes Kee Beach, where fishermen say the marine life is rebounding following periods of concerning decline. (Courtesy: DLNR/2019)

Testimony in support of the legislation came from one nonprofit advocacy group, the Hawaii Fisherman’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, as well as one individual.

There were 21 groups and 30 individuals who opposed it.

HFACT President Phil Hernandez, a Big Island fisherman who has a history of advocating for less regulation through the group, testified that setting a time limit for CBSFA designations could allow areas to revert to being unmanaged, which he argued could free up the state to spend money and resources to protect other marine areas. 

If a CBSFA is being managed well, the DLNR would retain the right to extend the designation beyond the built-in sunset date, he underscored in his testimony. Otherwise, a time limit could help account for situations where a community has lost interest or failed to make progress in managing its nearshore marine resources.

“There are many good reasons for a time limit,” Hernandez said in his testimony, “and no down side.”

DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said in written testimony that making CBSFA designations temporary may discourage communities from wanting to collaborate with the agency to managing nearshore resources — a collaboration that she described as crucial to making good management decisions. 

“The community comes up with the plan,” Chang said at the hearing earlier this month. “We support that plan, but it also contemplates regular monitoring. Has it been improving or is it getting worse? That’s our role at DLNR to assist them with those tools for monitoring and management, but it’s really up to the community to utilize the practices that that community has used over generations. It’s really to try to respect that.”

A group of testifiers on behalf of the University of Hawaii asked for the bill to be deferred, arguing that Haena’s reefs now hold more and larger fish species than similar reefs outside the CBSFA boundaries, and that fish from this area continue to feed the Haena community, as well as people islandwide.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees, which have yet to schedule a joint hearing.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation. 

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