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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Tuesday, June 1, 1999


Commercial fishing
caused akule kill

The mysterious fish kill a reader noticed along Kailua Beach on May 21 turned out to be hundreds of akule that can be traced to commercial akule fishing, according to two scientists as well as an unidentified caller.

All three said it was not an uncommon occurrence, although the state Department of Health's Clean Water Branch, which would investigate such things, said last week it knew nothing about it.

Although the dead fish were referred to as halalu (juvenile akule), marine biologist John Naughton of the National Marine Fisheries Service said what he, too, saw that day were adult fish.

Any health hazard "would be of minimal concern," he said, believing there weren't enough of them to affect the water quality. However, Naughton, a member of the state's Shark Task Force, is concerned about the possibility of such a mass kill attracting sharks to popular beach areas.

As it was, on May 21 he did see "something large feeding in the area where akule were drifting," possibly a shark or large ulua.

Meanwhile, Charles "Chip" Fletcher, a University of Hawaii associate professor of geology/geophysics, who is involved in a study of the reefs, sand and beach of Kailua Bay, also is familiar with periodic akule kills washing ashore.

In fact, because an akule fisherman who used nontraditional fishing practices was responsible for three separate fish kills in Kailua Bay last year, a bill was introduced by Rep. Cynthia Thielen "to add an aspect to the litter pollution law saying that intentional dumping of fish in the sea violates the litter pollution law," he said.

However, the bill did not go anywhere after the akule fishing community testified against it, asking to police itself, he said. Other fishermen said they would keep an eye on the fisherman in question, Fletcher said.

The May 21 incident is the first kill since then, so "it is good to let the akule fishing community know that Kailua Bay is not being utilized very well," Fletcher said.

According to Naughton, akule fishermen typically use a spotter plane to locate a school of akule, which like to congregate in shallow, sandy embayments. Fishing boats then surround the school with nets, catching thousands of pounds of fish. "Very often they will hold them in the nets, then take portions of them to the market, leaving others in the net," he said. "It depends on how much they catch, but very often there is a lot of waste."

The unidentified caller also gave that explanation, saying he had brought the matter to the attention of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in the past.

Naughton said, "It's the nature of the type of fishery and the fact that it's close to shore."

From Fletcher's perspective, "Akule seems to be fished in a sustainable manner." His review of the number of akule caught over the last couple of decades shows it's been "pretty stable. The akule fishing community knows how to maintain this resource.

"But that's no excuse for wastage," he said. "Given the other human impacts to the coastal zone, such as sewage disposal and nonpoint source pollution, I don't think we can afford to be wasteful of any of our coastal resources."

Mahalo

To Cal and Al, managers at Fisher Hawaii on Cooke Street, and the young man at the information desk. They spent a lot of time and effort to open my Toyota Corolla when I locked myself out in their parking lot May 5. -- S.





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