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west hawaii today front page article:

Support strong for fishery rules

proposal would toughen fishing, collecting regs

West Hawaii Today
[email protected]
Friday, December 10, 2004 9:35 AM HST

There was no shortage of support Thursday night for proposed restrictions to gill net use and tropical fish collecting in West Hawaii waters.

Even a tropical fish collector said he was in favor of most of the changes being floated by the state Division of Aquatic Resources after consultations with the West Hawaii Fisheries Council.

About 150 people at Kealakehe High School listened to testimony during a required public hearing for rule-making. Most of those who spoke hoped to further limit or even abolish tropical fish collecting from West Hawaii waters.

Many of them were school children from Hualalai Academy who asked that the state protect tropical fish populations for future generations. Sarah Crawford, a seventh grader, said if the proposed rules were not put into place, the reef would die.

Lisa Choquette, who operates Dive Makai Charters, even led a cheer after calling tropical fish collecting a "criminal waste of a precious resource."

Choquette, who called for an outright ban of tropical fish collecting, asked the crowd to stand and chant several times, "W-H-F-C, help us save our fishery."

She also joined a number of others who said the existing rules were lacking because the enforcement section was edited out when the original package was implemented in 1999. "What can we do to help you help us?" she asked a state official who was listening to the testimony.

Longtime Kona shore diver Dick Dresie called for larger fish replenishment areas with at least 50 percent of the shoreline protected. He said tropical fish in Kailua Bay, once abundant in the 1970s and 80s, have all but been wiped out by collectors.

One person -- Malia Becklund -- made an impassioned plea on behalf of opihi, which she said are being taken in huge numbers from Big Island shores by groups of hunters from Oahu.

"With every passing moment, a precious commodity is being plundered," she said of opihi, which she said is called "Hawaiian gold" by those who hunt the limpets.

She said "reef rapers" from Oahu are anxiously awaiting the christening of the interisland ferry so they could begin harvest of marine life on the Big Island and take it back to Oahu for sale.

Only one collector -- Martin Gilbert -- testified as of press time, and he agreed with many of the proposed rules, saying the original protections had only enhanced tropical fish collecting off the Kona Coast.

However, Gilbert said those who blame tropical fish collectors for a decline in reef fish cannot support their claims with evidence. He said dive shop operators are "eco-terrorists" who spread propaganda and the decline along the shoreline was being caused by man-made pollution from development.

Gilbert challenged any of those who criticized the collectors to dive with him and see how healthy the reef is off West Hawaii. "I'll take you any day of the week to prove you are wrong," he said.

The Alaska native asked if people were so concerned about the shoreline, they would demand oil control measures in case of an accidental spill from a large ship. He said such a spill, left unchecked, would devastate the Kona Coast.

Gilbert also took offense to charges that half of all tropical fish die during shipping. He said the death ratio was more line one out of a thousand. "That is a bald-faced lie," he said.


last night i testified in front of the hawaii state department of land and natural resources, and the division of aquatic resources, at a public hearing in support of proposed regulations on the taking of marine life from the kona coast. the testimony i read is posted here below, i guess to show you guys that sleepy doesnt just sit on her thumbs and watch her toenails grow. :lol:


Today I will be speaking on behalf of myself and my family. We are all in support of the issues being addressed here tonight. That aside, the issue my testimony is focused on is not related to the tropical fish issue, though it does relate to the conservation of the reefs surrounding this island called Moku o Keawe, AKA The Big Island. I apologize for deviating from the issues in front of you today, but this issue is of utmost importance, and cannot wait. Because with every passing moment, a precious and scarce commodity is being plundered, by individuals not from this island and its happening right from under us.

Any local person, born and raised in Hawaii, knows what an Opihi is. For Hawaiians of the past, the Opihi, or limpet, was a dietary staple. Now we cherish it as a rare delicacy, and because of its scarcity, it?s only eaten during special occasions and family gatherings. We know how precious it is, and we know how much to take, what to take, and what to leave behind. We know not to take the very small, first because it?s the law, but logically we know enough to let them grow up a bit. But we also know not to take the very large, because those are the breeders, and without them, there wouldn?t be a next generation. (There are no laws protecting these breeders, but that?s just part of my testimony today.)

It is known that on the island of Oahu, Opihi is just about impossible to find, and if you do find one, chances are it?s probably sick from disease, and not suitable to eat. Unfortunately, the demand for this rare animal is alive and well, and there are some that will pay top dollar for it. Opihi is now known as ?HAWAIIAN GOLD?, because of its high profitability.

Here on the Big Island, in certain remote areas, particularly the southern and northern coasts, the Opihi try to eek out an existence. Unfortunately, that has changed. There are groups of men that come here from the island of Oahu, their sole purpose, to seek out treasure. HAWAIIAN GOLD. Some of these men come once in a month, but there is a particular group* that come like clockwork, twice a week, right on schedule. They load about 5 to 8 coolers at a time, FULL of Opihi out of Keahole airport, and take these coolers to sell at the fish markets, which from there I can only guess its going to local restaurants and catering companies. But I don?t live on Oahu, and I?m not a sleuth or private eye, so I really don?t know that information.

What I am though, is the daughter of an airport baggage screener. That?s how I know what?s going on. My father is in charge of inspecting all the luggage that goes on the planes that leave this island. He takes pride in his work and he loves his job. What he doesn?t love, is seeing coolers full of reef life going through his station, and not being able to do anything about it. His hands are tied, and for speaking out, he is putting his job at risk. That is why I?m here, to try to help him do what he cannot. My father is not a vigilante, nor am I. But as Hawaiians we have a respect for the reef and for the land. We know to take only what we need, and leave the rest. Yet everyday he has to bear witness to the massive plunder of our native reefs, by selfish individuals whose only motivation is money, and greed.

The amount of fish that go through his station is staggering. But the thing that he cannot believe, nor his coworkers, is the tremendous amounts of Opihi that go through their station completely unregulated. These coolers are not little igloos. They are huge coolers full to capacity approximately 500 to 1000 Opihi in each, and each cooler weighing 70 to 80 lbs. Opihi of ALL sizes large and small, all by the same group of men. A group of men that do what they do because no one is stopping them. Unfortunately, the laws pertaining to Opihi are too lax, and not enough.

Here is a list of some proposed laws that may be considered:

1. Impose a law restricting the shell diameter not just to protect the babies, but also to protect the large breeders. (Perhaps a marine biologist can look into that and find out the exact diameter to be considered a large breeder).

2. Allow our baggage screeners (our last line of defense) the authority to enforce state and county laws as well as federal laws, and allow them the ability to communicate freely with enforcement officers.

3. We need an enforcement officer for the DLNR stationed in the baggage section of the airport. AND! Make sure that officer has at least SOME knowledge of what he is enforcing. The reason I state this is because I emailed the DLNR 6 months ago, and was referred to the only enforcement officer you have here, and he told my father to his face that Opihi is not a priority, blew him off and that was it. (More information is provided in an email here along with my testimony so I won?t give you all the details.) Long story short this guy doesn?t have the foggiest idea what his job really entails. We need officers that know their stuff, have at least an elementary level understanding of Hawaii?s natural resources so we can all feel secure knowing we have the right people, and the right amount of people on the job. I don?t think that?s too much to ask. And if the state doesn?t want to pay for more officers, then they are fooling themselves, and our tax dollars are going right down the drain.

4. Impose a law prohibiting the sale of Opihi, so that the only ones harvested are for personal use. A picker?s license can be issued to persons who want to pick Opihi for themselves, and they should only be permitted to pick a reasonable amount, and perhaps only pick during certain seasons, (again, a marine biologist, along with perhaps some Kupuna that are akamai on this subject, can work on that).

5. Impose a ban on the off island distribution of Opihi. Sounds extreme but its not. Right now we know Opihi is scarce. And if they have to come to this island because they?ve already wiped out their own island, something is wrong. The problem needs to be fixed, and plundering another area is not the way to fix it.

Also related to the off island shipping issue, we have a BIG problem on the horizon. And this relates to everything being discussed right now. The problem is this ferry issue. These guys are really looking forward to that ferry. All the Reef Rapers are! Soon they will be able to load up their cars with fish, Opihi, whatevers!! And just stroll right off the dock and slip silently away, laughing to themselves in the process. These men boast about how much money they are making to my dad, the Opihi Rapers and the Fish Rapers. But all he can do is grit his teeth and smile, cause there is nothing he can do to stop them.

That is why I?m here today. To let you folks know what?s going on, and to get more laws in place to protect the endangered resources of this island, before there is nothing left, and the only traces we have of the Opihi, are their broken shells, and the swollen bank accounts of these SOULLESS REEF RAPERS. Because that?s exactly what these men are. THEY MUST BE STOPPED. And there needs to be a new set of fresh rules and regulations put into effect to protect the Opihi. This ?Hawaiian Gold? mentality needs to END.

If these men were shipping out coolers full of nene carcasses, I?m sure a lot more people would be up in arms about this. That?s because the Opihi is not a priority to most, because they don?t know its significant cultural and overall value. For me, my family, and the countless others who love this aina and call it their home, the Opihi ARE a priority.

Please PLEASE don?t let them disappear. Their very existence lies in your hands. And time is of the essence. Please give this matter consideration even though its not the main topic being discussed today, its something that really cannot wait. These men will not stop, unless we stop them, or they turn the very last Opihi into a dollar bill.

Thank you for your time.

*(I have more detailed information about the group in question contained here in my email correspondence which I have attached to my testimony. If I can provide you with any additional information, you can email or call me with the number provided.)

that was my testimony. i have also been sworn in as a board member of the west hawaii fisheries council, and i will be mentoring a program at the NELH, natural energy lab of hawaii, where teens learn how to gather scientific analysis of marine life. they do it all on their own time, after school and dont get paid. they have mountians of data and they need adults to help with the program so i will be doing that. what these kids are doing is unbelievable because data collecting of this scale has never been done. as far as the opihi, theres a boy that is trying to breed them in captivity. that is a HUGE step in the right direction. please wish us luck on this issue! :wink:

SB, doing all the work that you do is something to be proud of.
I think its cool you feel so involved with your community and the fish 8)

You rock!

I wish you all good luck :)

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SleepingBeauty, I think this is a great example of how we can move past our mental issues and bring a lot to the table of what ever we consider to set our minds on.

I wish you success in all your endeavors.
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