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Land Board bans spearfishing with scuba gear

The rule affecting West Hawaii waters sparks more than six hours of testimony

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press


The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted Friday to prohibit spearfishing in waters off West Hawaii by people diving with the aid of scuba gear.

The board also decided to limit the collection of aquarium fish in the area to a list of 40 species, and redraw the boundaries of a fishery management area off Puako using updated information on the reef.

The scuba spearfishing ban was the most contentious measure considered.

The board voted 4-2 to approve it after hearing more than six hours of testimony, much of it from fishermen opposing the ban. Board Chairman William Aila and member David Goode were the two voting against the measure. Robert Pacheco, a member from Hawaii island, and three other members voted in favor.

The fishermen testified the science doesn't call for a ban on the practice. They're also worried banning spearfishing off West Hawaii would set a precedent and lead to other spearfishing bans around the state.

Those supporting the ban say scuba divers target larger fish, which is a concern because the offspring of larger female fish survive better and grow faster than the offspring of younger fish. They also argue that scuba fishermen harvest in deeper waters where fish take refuge.

South Kohala resident Mel Malinosky testified before the board that scuba spearfishermen are taking the fish that lay the most eggs, and these specimens need to be kept in West Hawaii.

"This is not about restricting Hawaiian gathering practices. If we have regular spearfishing, the reef could handle that. There are advanced technologies that are taking too much," Malinosky said.

Phil Fernandez, president of the Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition Inc., said fishermen who spearfish with the help of scuba gear go deeper and get different types of fish than fishermen who free-dive. He says they go after different types of fish such as gray snapper, or uku, and pink snapper, or weke ula.

Fernandez, of Kona, testified that development, use of fertilizer on land and cesspools are more important factors than overfishing that have led to reef damage.

"I agree it is one of the factors, but there are many factors that do more harm to the reef," he said.

Tony Costa of Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen said banning scuba spearfishing would compromise the community's ability to gather food, as well as make it unsafe and difficult to gather food. He said the abundant fish catch of fishermen confirms stocks are healthy.

"The use of scuba and spear is the nature of our gathering style. We have been sustainably gathering, harvesting in this manner for the last 50 years," Costa said.

Aila, who is a fisherman from Wai­anae, said he was worried about the unintended consequences of the approval. He said scuba spearfishermen will keep fishing but just switch to other methods and start fishing closer to shore. He believes fish stocks there will come under more pressure.

"I think this will add to the polarization between the fishing community and the environmental community," Aila said after the meeting. "It will be much more difficult moving forward to get the two sides to try to work on meaningful regulations in the future."

The proposed rules were developed over 10 years of discussion and hearings by the West Hawaii Fisheries Council, a community advisory group formed in response to a 1998 law that sought to manage conflicts over fishing in the area.

Nearly 90 percent of the 565 people in West Hawaii who submitted public testimony on the topic last year supported the scuba ban. Similar percentages around the state and outside Hawaii supported the prohibition.

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tiki886 wrote:
Scuba scares the fish away with the noise that the regulator makes.

I used to do a lot of scuba diving. Scuba is no advantage. When I try to get into deep Ulua caves beyond free diving limits such as 90 feet or more, the Ulua can hear me coming and they're gone by the time I get to the hole. As far as tuna is concerned, they're afraid of the noise scuba makes and they stay out of range. So do Uku and other ocean ocean pelagic fish.

However, ask yourself a question. How do you get more than a dozen Menpachi to market? They are reef fish who stay in nooks and crannys of the reef. They don't swim in open ocean schools.

There was an article years ago that they use scuba to cover a spot on a reef with nets and use powdered chlorine in a garbage bag and then fill it with sea water. They put the chlorine bomb in a Menpachi hole and pop the bag. The Menpachi as well as every living thing swims into the reef net. Why hasn't the Dept of Fish and Wildlife ask the fish markets questions as to who they bought reef fish from without any hooks or spear holes in them?

on June 29,2013 | 02:22AM
koolau wrote:
I used to free dive in the waters off the former nudist colony just outside of Kahuku in early 90s. Shortly after, I noticed what appeared to be commercial dive boats just outside the second reef, then the fish that were once plentiful in the inside reef started to disappear. I know they weren't netting because the unpredictable waters can wipe out nets overnight. Then I noticed the coral in certain areas started to die. When there's Kona winds, often you'll see boats anchored in the same places. I agree with tiki886. Much. much stiffer penalties must be made should divers be caught using chlorine or any substance that causes mass and indiscriminate killing of marine life. The same should apply to those who's fish nets are left to waste in reefs.
on June 29,2013 | 04:27AM
OldDiver wrote:
The use of scuba gear at night is the problem. The fish are sleeping so the bubbles aren't scaring them. They don't have a sporting chance.
on June 29,2013 | 07:44AM
allie wrote:
on June 29,2013 | 08:00AM
Anonymous wrote:
Aila seems to be a bit miffed for being outvoted by his own board. Of course he won't enforce this ruling. What political motives drove Abercrombie to nominate such a poor choice for such an important position?
on June 29,2013 | 10:45AM
bender wrote:
I was wondering how this would be enforced. I guess they need to put Henry Haina on the case.
on June 29,2013 | 11:17AM
SteveToo wrote:
Henry the gun tottin,hunter spookin game warden. LOL
on June 29,2013 | 12:22PM
bleedgreen wrote:
It's not the use of scuba gear that gives the diver an advantage. It's the use of spear guns that have great firing range in water. They should ban the use and sale of these guns. Let the scuba divers use the old Hawaiian, 3-prong, sling spears. It has a short spearing range of maybe the length of the spear, whereas, the spear guns have an effective firing range of 20 feet under water.
on June 29,2013 | 03:15AM
koolau wrote:
Restriction of night diving in scuba gear should also be added, at the least. Much of the mature re-producing species are taken that way also.
on June 29,2013 | 04:33AM
OldDiver wrote:
Yup, free divers are only able to spear a minute fraction of the fish those using scuba can.
on June 29,2013 | 07:47AM
kennysmith wrote:
do you think this person is all AIR he can be dum.
on June 29,2013 | 09:47AM
tiki886 wrote:
It depends. Free divers can stay in the water for hours or all day long. With scuba, at 90 feet only gives you 25 minutes of air. At 35 feet you are lucky if you can stay under water one hour. If you shore dive with scuba you don't want to swim hundreds of yards back to your truck and grab another tank. It's the most inefficient way to commercial fish.

I do/did shore diving for recreation with one or two tanks with spears hardly gives me enough time to gather hardly any fish. I used to carry a 3 prong with a .44 cal bang stick head in my vest for protection and a pneumatic spear gun. Lugging a hundred pounds of gear on land and snorkeling with it on the surface for a couple hundred yards to preserve your air time is exhausting.

A boat makes it easier but your air time underwater is still limited depending on how deep you go.

The scuba divers that do the most damage are the ones who use boats with dozens of tanks on board and use lay nets. You can't use scuba to spear fast open ocean fish like mahi, tuna, uku, and snapper. They are very wary. The only way I was able to spear ulua is when they were in caves with only one exit. Out in the open they seem to know the range of my spear gun and stay just out of range.

Recreational scuba takes less catch than a free diver. It's the commercial operators with nets and scuba that do the most damage.

on June 29,2013 | 11:51AM
UhhDuhh wrote:
Commercial uhu divers have been using scuba and 3 prongs since the 70's. Spear guns are not efficient because you have a barb to deal with when you remove the fish and a monofilament wrap attaching the shaft to the gun so the fish will not run away with the shaft. Shoot the fish, take it off, kui or bag it, reload the shaft and re-wrap it, reload the bands then shoot again. That involves a lot of wasted tank time so its more efficient for commercial divers to use three prongs. Shoot and kui, shoot and kui. I think the issue is scuba at night when the fish are sleeping. Its not a sport because the fish do not move so it is obviously a money maker and it seems the money is the issue here, not food supply. Banning spear guns would punish the recreational free divers, most of who love the sport and make no money doing it. Either way, any ban would have to be enforced by the DLNR which is run by guess who? Aloha
on June 29,2013 | 10:22AM
tiki886 wrote:
The next time you go to a fish market, ask yourself why the Uhu doesn't have any spear marks. You can't catch them with hook and line either.
on June 29,2013 | 11:00AM
UhhDuhh wrote:
Depends what market you go. Purple urchin or starfish works good with hook and line.
on June 29,2013 | 11:46AM
tiki886 wrote:
If that kind of bait works, once hooked they'd run into a hole and you'd never pull them out or their parrot beaks can easily cut the line. It takes too much time and effort to catch uhu that way to make any money.
on June 29,2013 | 04:22PM
tiki886 wrote:
I remember I shot a big uhu about 10 pounds at a bad angle so he ran into the reef, with my spear in him, into all kinds of holes and crevices. By the time I unraveled and reeled in my line, took off the spear tip to slide the spear bar back through the uhu, I had used 15 to 20 minutes of air by the time I bagged him, reset and was ready to go again. It was shallow about 35 - 40 feet so I had time for maybe one more shot but I found nothing worth spearing. So I went home with one fish

Now charging up a scuba tank costs $10 a fill. Plus gas, time and effort. It was an expensive dinner but that is what "recreational" scuba diving is all about with a spear.

You puinsai mayonnaise, lup chong and some parsley den bake 'em and it's ono brah. Or fry 'em in peanut oil. Mmmm.

on June 29,2013 | 06:29PM
UhhDuhh wrote:
If the scuba problem is on the Big Island, they need to address it before their reefs start to look like Oahu's. Just 10 years ago you could see shools of uhu feeding vertically on Oahu. Now, you see one or two and they zip around as soon as they see you. Lot of drops and reef scratching to land one. Night diving would decimate what's left. Supply and demand is the reason why the price of uhu is so high. But yeah, mayo and lup cheong and a case of beer and its all good.
on June 30,2013 | 09:42AM
peanutgallery wrote:
It's incredible that this state has someone like Aila heading DLNR. There is no science to support what just happened. It was typical knee-jerk reaction, as is most stuff related to fishing in Hawaii. We should be the showcase state, and instead, we're the laughing stock.
on June 29,2013 | 03:25AM
Anonymous wrote:
NO science! You obviously have not paid attention. There are decades of science. Overwhelming amount of data. Denial of the obvious does not help.
on June 29,2013 | 12:21PM
tiki886 wrote:
How do you keep track of how much and what kinds of fish free divers take and how many free divers are they? Ask the same question about recreational scuba divers who use spears. Where's the "science" if you have no way to track those numbers and that activity?

The commercial operators are the ones who need over sight. Leave the free divers and recreational scuba divers with spear guns alone.

on June 29,2013 | 12:59PM
Squidy wrote:
DLNR should regulate recreational fishing by requiring licenses and use the license fees to fund better enforcement and management of ocean resources.
on June 29,2013 | 05:57AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
You all do realize that golf courses pose the greatest danger to our reefs and surrounding ecosystem through fertilizer and gray water runoff? Look at what the Alawai has done to Waikiki and what Hawaii Kai has done to Hanauma over the past 40 years. Its shameful...
on June 29,2013 | 06:21AM
Advsurfsail wrote:
Fisherman all blame golf courses. While it is true they are destructive. Nothing is as destructive to the reef as one man...William Aila, DLNR head, also a reef fish collector. Banning the collection of reef fish FOR AQUARIUM PURPOSES would be key to Hawaiian reef ecosystem recovery. Aila as a former collector whose wife still does it, promotes it. When is the last time you snorkeled and saw a yellow tang?
on June 29,2013 | 06:38AM
malamaaina wrote:
Nothing to see here folks; just look the other way.
on June 29,2013 | 07:58AM
smooshpappy wrote:
You are exactly correct, Advsurfsail. Aila makes big money as head of the DLNR, and yet his wife still collects Aquarium fish. The waters around Oahu used to have abundant reef fishes of every kind. Now, its like a desert out there unless you dive deep. Overfishing of every kind is to blame. Aila is a a poor choice for for head of DLNR. The fox guarding the hen house. Hawaii used to have at least a half a million native Hawaiians, as many as one million by some estimates. Even in those times, fish were abundant in Hawaiian waters.. why? Management via the kapu system. We need to study those practices and start doing some real enforcement, in stead of slowly but surely killing of local fish stocks by bad management and indifference.
on June 29,2013 | 08:51AM
Rite80 wrote:
Desert is the right word. Ban suba, ban laynets. License everyone who takes anything from the ocean. No one has a right to overfish and this includes everyone.
on June 29,2013 | 09:59AM
bender wrote:
Unfortunately we have an anything goes attitude here in Hawaii, be it the taking of aquarium fish to crabbing in the rivers. And there is no one there to say, "hey, you can't do that". We do have a few enforcment people who do their jobs but even some of those put too much emphasis on manini things and waste their time trying to catch you sleeping on the beach instead of going after the people doing real damage to our natural resources.
on June 29,2013 | 11:24AM
leino wrote:
The state needs to do more serious testing to get lots more data on this subject. I suspect that you are right that it is a significant contributions to habitat destruction.
on June 29,2013 | 06:50AM
Advsurfsail wrote:
Ban the collection of reef fish FOR AQUARIUM PURPOSES now. Banning scuba tanks is a good start but ban aquarium fish collection. Those shameful losers use tanks and a net.
on June 29,2013 | 06:40AM
yhls wrote:
We need more conservation. Period. Hawaii has the absolute WORST conservation enforcement of its nearshore fisheries in the United States. We are the ONLY state that does not require a fishing license and therefore has money to fund fisheries management. These people who continue to rape the fishery and claim it is their right (you know who you are) would have been put to death in ancient Hawaii for such abuses.
on June 29,2013 | 06:55AM
soundofreason wrote:
Kinda missin' the old ways. Made people think twice. Or think.....at all.
on June 29,2013 | 07:38AM
allie wrote:
good points
on June 29,2013 | 08:01AM
yhls wrote:
I meant to say has "no money."
on June 29,2013 | 06:56AM
yhls wrote:
It's insane that the state of Hawaii allows the gathering (nice euphemism) of aquarium fish off of our precious coral reefs. It's more like raping the reef. These fish are a valuable part of the marine ecosystem. Taking them out has contributed to the decline of our fishery as a whole no matter what these greedy individuals say.
on June 29,2013 | 07:12AM
aomohoa wrote:
Man vs nature. The fish should have a sporting chance.
on June 29,2013 | 09:32AM
allie wrote:
on June 29,2013 | 10:19AM
Kaluu wrote:
Too bad it had to come to this. Too many people got greedy. I was away for a few years, came home, and was very sad to see reefs once teeming with fish lifeless deserts. I went free-diving Kapoho where used to get clouds of uhu and saw only one. Put the point of the spear behind the head, but didn't want to poke the last one. Auwe! Mamamake na ia o keia mau mokupuni!
on June 29,2013 | 09:56AM
UhhDuhh wrote:
on June 29,2013 | 01:22PM
noheawilli wrote:
Would some elected official please put an end to these unelected law makers.
on June 29,2013 | 11:43AM
tiki886 wrote:
Residents, environmentalists and commercial tropical fish collectors are outraged by the discovery of 610 fish in a trash bin at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor. 551 were yellow tangs. - Honolulu Advertiser 1/29/2010



The only way to kill so many at one time is to use nets and scuba to cover a section of reef and use a clorine bomb to flush the reef fish out of their nooks and crannies. They use powdered chlorine to be mixed later with seawater because it's more convenient and not as obvious than carrying dozens of clorox bottles on board their boat.

Now I admit it doesn't look good for the aquarium trade and it appears that someone used too much chlorine and killed their 'money makers' and killed the coral in the process. However, it could also be "trash" by-catch from those targeting and flushing out uhu, menpachi and other reef fish for local fish markets. We'll never know.

Leave the free divers and scuba divers with spears alone!

on June 29,2013 | 03:44PM
opihi123 wrote:
another bill waiting in the wings is the Molokai residents only fishing area comprising the entire north shore of Molokai.. once again, the problem is the commercial sale or barter of fish... not the recreational/subsistence user. why ban everyone else in the state, (discrimination)but still allow commercial/barter take by Molokai residents who like it or not are the main problem of Molokai resource decline. inshore resources should have strict catch limits and not be allowed for sale period!!! There are other ways to make a living than plundering the ocean resources! That way everyone has a fair shot to catch their own fish for themselves and their families. Chlorine use should be punishable by public whipping. yes I said it
on June 29,2013 | 04:33PM
tiki886 wrote:
I forgot to mention, another reason they use powdered chlorine is they dump the stuff over board before coming back to harbor to get rid of the evidence. Dumping full or empty Clorox bottles would expose the manner in which reef fish are caught and provided to local fish markets.
on June 29,2013 | 05:54PM
Kaluu wrote:
One more comment. I know areas far from golf courses and agriculture where formerly healthy reef life is devoid of all life in patches. I'm not saying that pollutants are not having an adverse effect on marine life, but I also no that there are many, many unprincipled people who raid fish using all manner of methods, not just SCUBA and spears. Used to have one hole with big moi where we'd go get one or two now and then. Went back one day, and no moi. Somebody had zapped the whole school. Same with an ulua hole where it was easy to go poke one now and then. There are lots and lots of ways that people have been trashing the marine environment--not just SCUBA. How will it help the manini, kole, kole nukuheo, etc. if only SCUBA fishing is banned. Those fish and many more don't go into deep water. Hawaii has needed some tough regulations for many years, but the problem is, the politicians know that most people just want to be greedy about fish, and that's that.
on June 29,2013 | 07:43PM
tiki886 wrote:
Moi live in holes?
on June 30,2013 | 12:26AM
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