A Native Hawaiian fisherman is asking an environmental court to stop Hawaii officials from issuing commercial fishing licenses to those who aren’t legally admitted into the United States.
Malama Chun, a Maui resident who fishes as a cultural practice, filed an appeal on July 27 of a state Board of Land and Natural Resources decision denying his petition. Chun filed his petition in April in response to an Associated Press investigation that found hundreds of foreign fishermen confined to boats and some living in subpar conditions. Hawaii grants the foreign fishermen licenses to fish, but they aren’t allowed to enter the country.
The board, which regulates fishing licenses, denied the petition last month without a hearing. Chun didn’t show how not issuing the licenses would address his concerns about overfishing and cultural practices. His attorney, Lance Collins, said Tuesday that because the board made a decision without holding a hearing or conducting any fact-finding, the board must take all stated facts as true.
“The members of the (board) must have been too ashamed to make their decision at a public meeting,” Malama Chun said in a statement. “The situation is bad for these fishermen and it’s bad for Hawaii’s people. And I know in their hearts they know it’s wrong, which is why they didn’t give us a hearing before deciding.”
A spokesman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. There was no public meeting because under state law, the board isn’t required to hold one for petitions for declaratory relief, said Joshua Wisch, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.
Chun argues in his appeal that confining fishermen to ships violates the “law of the Splintered Paddle,” a state law with origins in the Hawaiian Kingdom which says people in Hawaii must have freedom of movement. “These unfair and illegal labor practices violate this constitutional and Hawaiian Kingdom-era law protecting the rights of the common person, specifically the vulnerable foreign workers that are exploited by the longline fishing industry,” the appeal said.
The board in its decision said it doesn’t have jurisdiction to consider allegations of unfair labor practices.