LIHU‘E — After hours of testimony and questioning Wednesday afternoon, the council deferred for seven months a six-page resolution endorsing some 6,000 Kaua‘i ocean users who oppose to the expansion of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Ocean users, especially fishermen, fear losing their rights and being squeezed out of their fishing grounds. On the flipside, state and federal officials are saying added layers of protection will have no significant impacts on fishing — the expansion would protect endangered species’ critical habitat from other federal agencies.
“I feel there are many good parts to it, but I also feel there is a lack of clear understanding, a lack of information and a draft plan is not even out,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said of the resolution.
By a 4-2 vote, the council deferred the resolution to Oct. 9, after federal officials release for public review and comments a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed sanctuary expansion.
Councilman Ross Kagawa, who introduced the resolution, and Councilman Mel Rapozo voted against the deferral.
Federal and state officials are saying fishermen’s fears are unfounded and the state will not lose jurisdiction over Hawaiian waters, but there is nothing in writing.
The sanctuary — established by Congress in 1992 and effective in 1997 — is co-managed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Its 1,370 square miles are split into five separate areas. The bulk of the sanctuary is in waters between Moloka‘i, Lana‘i and Maui. Other smaller areas include the North Shore of Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, southeast of O‘ahu and northwest of Big Island.
A management plan review, set forth in 2009 — re-assessing direction and scope of the sanctuary — includes adding Hawaiian monk seals, other whales, dolphins, sea turtles, federally protected coral species, critical habitats and submerged cultural and historic resources.
Rapozo said the council needs to protect people’s rights to use their resources. The monk seals, the whales and the shearwaters have a voice through environmental agencies and the federal government, he said.
Yukimura said written testimony from DLNR indicates management is in the state’s hand because it’s jointly done with NOAA, the governor needs to approve any management action in state waters, and fishing regulations have to be established by DLNR.
DLNR sanctuary co-manager Elia Herman said DLNR is committed to active management of marine resources, but the agency receives less than 1 percent of the state’s budget and cannot do it alone. It needs partnership with the community and other agencies.
Jean Higgins, endangered species biologist at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services, said critical habitat boundary of monk seals — whose range is the entire archipelago — does not give NMFS power to regulate human activity within those boundaries. Instead, she said, it ensures federal agencies that are moving forward with projects within those boundaries consult with NMFS.
By designating the area as an endangered species critical habitat, she said, it wouldn’t give NMFS additional authority.
Sanctuary superintendent Malia Chow, from NOAA, said she has been listening to communities across the state for the last two years, and the reason the management plan review was launched is because the law requires it.
Jean Souza, NOAA Kaua‘i programs coordinator for the sanctuary, said “rather than just grumble,” everyone should work together to solve some of the problems.
Holoholo Charters operations manager and captain Mel Wills, though not “truly a fisherman,” said he is a professional ocean user and part of a group of fishermen with “huge concerns” about the expansion.
“We go to Ni‘ihau and we swim with monk seals,” said Wills, adding he is surrounded by natural resources. “We don’t need the federal government to tell us how to manage them.”
Moloa‘a fisherman Charles Pereira, 83, said has been fishing since age 7, but it wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he saw a seal for the first time.
“That seal is a pest,” said Pereira, adding that he is a “throw net man,” and the seals eat the fish right off the net.
Westside fisherman Dennis Higuchi said he would rather see NOAA helping the state to propagate species rather than conserving everything, which eventually imposes restrictions on fishermen.
Bottom fisherman Greg Holzman said new regulations would become legal tools for environmental groups, which have “massive agendas” to stop the taking of food and have a lot of money to spend in lawyers.
Nina Monasevitch, of Kohola Leo, said the 6,000 signatures against the expansion, mentioned in the resolution, were collected based on misrepresentations. More than 300,000 whales and marine mammals die annually from getting entangled in nets, according to Monasevitch. The second highest cause of mortality is vessel strike, and speed is the main factor, she said.
Westside resident Gordon LaBedz, representing the Surfrider Foundation, said the ocean is not owned by the fishermen; it is owned by the people of the United States, and it is the government’s responsibility to take care of it.