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Where Are The Fish, Really?

By Captain Makani Christensen, Lead Guide Fly Fishing Hawaii

Living in Hawaii is expensive- some might say nearly impossible!  Many people say if you cannot afford it- leave!  Several members of my family have already moved to the ninth-island, Las Vegas, where the cost of living is cheaper and there seems to be an abundance of jobs.  Yet those of us that do hold on to these islands and our roots try to survive the best way we know how.  For those of us that own nothing and continue to live paycheck to paycheck, fishing or hunting is a vital component of our survival.  Taking away the ability to hunt both on land and in the ocean makes it much harder to make ends meet.

In Hawaii, there are many individuals and organizations who continuously attempt to limit our ability to feed people.   The latest example was November 2nd, 2017, when a group of legislators conducted an informational conference on coral reef bleaching and overfishing.  The conference was put together by Representative Kaniela Ing (Maui), Representative Cedric Gates (West Oahu), Representative Chris Lee (Waimanalo), and Representative Nicole Lowen (Kona).  Their goal is to create new laws and legislatively mandate closure of 30% of the Hawaiian Island near-shore waters.   Taking into account the recent closures to the North West Hawaiian Islands, that is over 80% of what used to be fishing grounds and food sources for the local population.

There were several faults in the conference keynote lecture by Dr. Alan M. Friedlander, but the news made it appear as a life or death situation.   According to Dr Friedlander, there are now 90% less fish than reported in 1900.   The amount of Ulua is depleted, there are no more Oio, the stocks of Moi have plummeted.   Over 50% of the reef in Hawaii is dead.  This appears to be a severe situation.   So how do we keep fishing grounds open if it seems like all is about to be lost?  We can first begin by analyzing the research conducted by Dr. Friedlander.

Dr. Friedlander stated in his discussion that there are 90% less fish in Hawaii based on commercial catch data since 1900. This particular statement stuck with news reporters and certain legislators. However, if you look at the data, there are certain events and outlying factors that affected the number of fish reportedly caught by commercial fishermen. Dr. Friedlander chose not to take into account that in the early 1900s Ahi, Aku, Marlin and other pelagic fish, were reported in the commercial reef fish data. Then they separated the pelagic and reef fish. This overlooked detail accounted most of the 90% decline.

Dr. Friedlander also stated that the population of Ulua dropped dramatically based on the commercial fish catches. However, he failed to mention that Ciguatoxins accounted for the massive drop in the capture of Ulua, not over-fishing.

It was also mentioned that there was a massive drop in Oio or bonefish, which was also based on commercial catch reports. In the past, people loved eating Oio, however this is no longer true. The price of bonefish is not worth the time to commercial fishermen. Therefore the decrease of Oio cannot be contributed to over-fishing.

Finally, Dr. Friedlander discussed Moi and the massive drop in the population based on commercial catch reports. Based on these statements, the laws were changed and the fishery was eliminated.

It appears that false data is being presented to legislators, which calls into question the motives of these individuals.

Dr. Friedlander called for a permanent Marine Protected Area (MPA) where fishing is banned, in order to protect the reefs.  He suggested a ban on fishing on 30% of the coastline. Yet, the coral reef presentation by NOAA did not once mention limits on fishing as an effective solution to protecting the reefs.

The reef is resilient. Already, many of the reef areas in question have improved significantly. I have seen it with my own eyes. Yet the news and legislators are portraying an all or nothing approach to reef protection. They are failing to recognize the true causes of reef degradation- run off, sewage, and sedimentation, and instead blaming over-fishing.

Where did the money for the 25,000 dive surveys come from? If you trace the records, you will see that most of the funding comes from organizations that aim to ban fishing all together.

Based on the sponsor list presented by Dr. Friedlander, the Nature Conservancy is one of the largest contributors.  It is ironic that organizations such as the Nature Conservancy will kill thousands of animals in the forest, effectively taking food away from families trying to make ends meet.  Then, they turn to the ocean to create closures, effectively deny access to fishermen.

The politicians that allowed this fiasco to happen are responsible for creating laws that take food away from families and make it harder to survive here.   It is already difficult enough to survive in Hawaii, why are they making it more challenging?  It must be an election year.

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