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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

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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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