Pacific Fisheries Coalition




  pacific fisheries coalition The Status of Hawai`i's Living Marine Resources at the Millennium

A PFC White Paper

The Pacific Fisheries Coalition (PFC), with support from the PEW Charitable Trusts, the Harold K. L. Castle Foundation, and the Marisla Foundation represents a unique collaboration between conservationists and fishermen who find common ground in their desire to promote the conservation and responsible use of living marine resources in Hawai`i and the Central and Western Pacific.

This white paper was drafted by Alan Friedlander, researcher at the Oceanic Institute, Bob Endreson, President of the Hawai`i Fishermen's Foundation, William Aila, Hawai`ian fisherman and Harbor Master of the Waianae Small Boat Harbor and Linda Paul, Executive Director for Aquatics, Hawai`i Audubon Society, with the assistance of the State Division of Aquatic Resources.

Hawai`i's Living Marine Resources

Hawai`i's ocean industries include commercial and recreational fishing, snorkeling and diving, aquaculture, maritime shipping, ocean research, boating, kayaking and surfing. The cultivation of these industries, especially those related to ecotourism, is critical to the health of Hawai`i's economy. To increase diversity and maintain growth in the various ocean industry sectors we need to provide adequate support, and no single sector needs it more than the management of our living marine resources, which play a critical role in our tourist-dominated economy. From restaurants that feature fresh-caught island fish on their menus to charter boats, dive shops, Navitek and the Atlantis submarines, our tourist economy is tied to the health of our living marine resources, and yet these resources are in trouble. Pollution, over-harvesting, damaging fishing practices, loss of estuaries, reef habitat and inshore nursery areas, alien aquatic species, coastal development, marine debris, and shipwrecks have caused our living marine resources to decline.

Hawai`i's Coastal Fisheries at the Millennium

The coastal fisheries in Hawai`i have undergone enormous changes in the past 150 years. A breakdown of the traditional kapu system and the demise of the ahupua`a as a management unit after the great mahele in 1848 and annexation in 1898 led to the virtual elimination of traditional Hawai`ian fisheries management practices. The early 1900's saw a rapid change from subsistence to a cash economy and large increases in the commercial landing of fish and other marine resources. Following statehood, Hawai`i saw a rapid growth in tourism, an increasingly urban resident population, and the continued development of shoreline areas for tourism and recreation. These changes resulted in another change in the character of the coastal fisheries to one that was dominated by recreational anglers and a greater number of part-time commercial fishers who curtailed their fishing activities to take advantage of more lucrative economic activities. The fisheries for akule and opelu represent the only true large-scale commercial coastal fisheries in Hawai`i.

Fisheries catch statistics in Hawai`i are unreliable owing to under-reporting by commercial fishers and a large resident recreational and subsistence fishing catch that goes unreported. Hawai`i is one of the few coastal states that does not require a saltwater recreational fishing license. The nearshore recreational catch is likely equal to or greater than the nearshore commercial fisheries catch, and these recreational fishers take more species using a wider range of fishing gear. In addition to commercial and recreational fisheries, most of the marine ornamental fish and invertebrates originating from U.S. waters are collected in Hawai`i, which is known for its high quality animals and rare endemics of high value. There are no regulations limiting the size, number, and collecting season for most species and the full impacts may not be felt yet. The lack of marine-focused enforcement and minimal fines for those few cases that have been prosecuted contribute to a lack of incentive by the population to abide by fisheries management regulations.

Owing to the poor state of Hawai`i's coastal fisheries, the Hawai`i State Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources, has undertaken a number of measures to improve the management of these resources. A few of these measures include changes in minimum size limits for certain resource species, the initiation of marine recreational fisheries surveys, and changes to the rules governing marine protected areas. A number of communities throughout the state are currently strengthening local influence and accountability for the health and long-term sustainability of their marine resources through revitalization of local traditions and resource knowledge. The State of Hawai`i has been encouraging community-based management of subsistence fishing areas since 1994 and a number of these areas are now being established. Other management measures have included the use of stock enhancement for a few highly prized species and artificial reefs to improve the catch of some coastal fisheries species in a few select locations. The current challenge is to rebuild sustainable fisheries while conserving marine resources and providing benefits to all of Hawai`i's residents.

Ulua and other jacks: a case study

Ulua and their relatives are the most important predators on Hawai`ian coral reefs and are also the most highly sought after shoreline sportsfish in Hawai`i. Ulua played an important role in ancient Hawai`ian culture and were often fished for sport by the ali`i. Commercial landings of coastal jacks, excluding akule and opelu, have declined by as much as 84% since the early 1900s, however, the average size of ulua and omilu landed in the commercial fishery has increased since the 1970s likely owing to the increase in the number of boats which now exploit previously unfished areas. Despite this increase in the size of commercially-caught ulua and omilu, anglers on all islands reported declines in the average size and number of ulua taken in the recreational fishery. The catch per unit of effort of 100+ lb ulua recorded on each of the main islands in the 1990s was inversely related to the island population density suggesting that overharvest of large individuals is occurring near large population centers.

Unlike the Main Hawai`ian Islands, the populations of large jacks in the Northwestern Hawai`ian Islands are presently very healthy and represent one of the few remaining large-scale, intact, predator-dominated reef ecosystems left in the world. More than 54% of the total fish biomass in the Northwestern Hawai`ian Islands consisted of apex predators, whereas this trophic level accounted for less than 3% of the fish biomass in the Main Hawai`ian Islands. Within the Northwestern Hawai`ian Islands, the frequency of occurrence of omilu and ulua are 3- to 5-fold higher at French Frigate Shoals compared to Midway Atoll, where they have been fished by U.S. Naval Air personnel for nearly a century and since 1996 where they have been the target of a catch-and-release fishery since Midway was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. This suggests that the management regime for ulua and other predatory jacks in Hawai`i is currently inadequate and the use of large no-take marine reserves may be a viable management measure to rehabilitate these populations.

Hawai`i's ocean industry revenues are expected to grow as fast as tourism revenues

Ecotourists spend more than $800 million each year on ocean-related activities. Although tourism, construction and defense spending have been Hawai`i's economic mainstays over the past decade, greater economic stability through diversification, with reduced dominance of tourism in the gross State product, is now the goal. An important strategy of the economic diversification policy is building upon Hawai`i's comparative strengths, and encouraging the development of Hawai`i's ocean industries must be part of that policy.

The State of Hawai`i is ranked 48th among the 50 states in terms of public money spent on aquatic resource management, even though Hawai`i has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the United States - over 900,000 square miles. A forty percent increase is needed to bring it up to the national mean. In the state of Wyoming the informational and educational specialists outnumber the entire Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) staff. The small DAR budget, which has responsibility for conserving and managing all of Hawai`i's aquatic resources, is one of the primary reasons for the decline in the quantity and quality of our marine resources. While Hawai`i's economic situation is partly to blame for this lack of funds, the failure to realize how important our natural resources are to our tourist economy is mostly to blame. Unless we change our priorities and make sure that we spend at least as much taking care of our marine resources as we spend advertising them, our economy is not going to get much better.

Many people, not just fishermen, believe that there could never be a serious collapse of our marine resources in such a vast ocean environment. Few have seen the devastating effects that bleach and chemicals have on our reefs or what the destructive impacts the anchors from small boats out for family outings can have on a coral reef. Except for an occasional trip to the beach most residents never have the opportunity to get up close and personal with our marine resources, to touch them and see for themselves.

Fishery managers, policy makers, and the public are often confused when it comes to understanding the dynamics of the various fishing communities, the hardships and frustrations of fishermen and the overall stress and impact the many demands have on the resources or for that matter the far reaching effects that collapse of the resources would have on tourism, commercial fishermen, divers, recreational fishermen and above all future generations.

Communication has always been a problem in fisheries management. All too often rules are not adopted until the stocks are already over-fished and then regulations are imposed that are either too little, too late or so restrictive that they impact a lot of lives. Managers and policy makers are required to hold public hearings, but that environment is not conducive for communicating about a subject that is very complex, threatening, and often very confusing to the average fishermen.

The Decline of Hawai`i's Fisheries

Coastal fisheries worldwide are in crisis, and Hawai`i is no exception. Fisheries in Hawai`i have declined dramatically in the past 100 years due to overfishing and loss of habitat. New fishers or fishers that seek to increase their portion of the marine resource harvest can now do so only at the expense of those already fishing the resource. The fingers of blame point in every direction: greedy fishermen, inept biologists, coastal developers, El Nino, La Nina, etc. However, the decline in our fish stocks can be attributed more to a lack of political will and a failure to provide sufficient resources for protection, management and enforcement rather than the quality and quantity of biological data.

Both fishermen and biologists alike are coming to realize that some safeguards need to be built into the management process to protect stocks, instead of waiting until "sufficient" data can be collected that tells us the stocks are in trouble. We now know that we need to incorporate precautionary management measures that do not catastrophically fail if fish stock assessment is inaccurate or the political process is flawed. This also means that new fisheries management initiatives must involve more dialogue with the fishing community to improve the prospects for better compliance, with automatic incentives for reducing exploitation if catches exceed sustainable levels.

Increasing attention is also being paid to the study of traditional and community fisheries management measures in an effort to learn methods that have survived the test of time. Although many traditional management measures evolved within a specific social framework and may not be translatable into other contexts, others take advantage of widespread human attributes and may be useful in illustrating fundamental principles. Modern fisheries management theory is beginning to pay much closer attention to the interface between community practices and western fisheries management assumptions. A few remote areas under community control have standing stocks of fishes equivalent to those found in no-take Marine Life Conservation Districts. However, despite the fact that no-take marine refuges and areas under community-based management have proven to be successful fisheries management strategies, less than 1% of the coastal areas in Hawai`i are managed in these ways.

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