Fishing ban fits state's goal of protecting northwest isles
Conservation groups and state leaders favor prohibiting bottom-fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
THE state's support for a ban on commercial bottom-fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands falls in line with the public's desire to protect the region, and signals to federal authorities deliberating the islands' status the value Hawaii places on its ocean ecosystem.
Although costs have yet to be established, the state should consider paying off the nine operations that still hold permits to take fish from the waters surrounding the 1,200-mile stretch of islands.
The ban was proposed by two national conservation organizations that reviewed data from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The groups, the Ocean Conservancy and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, contend that continuing fishing at current levels will deplete stocks of such fish as opakapaka, onaga, ehu and uku in five years.
Because these species are prized for the table, a ban would provoke opposition. A spokesman for the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, the federal agency that regulates fishing, called the conservation groups' analysis flawed, maintaining that their study picked data to reach "a negative conclusion."
The conflict between conservation and commercial interests is at the heart of a continuing process to determine the scope of protection for the islands, which began in 2000 when President Clinton declared the region a marine reserve.
The current plan is to establish a federal marine sanctuary, but sanctuary status would still allow fishing and other extractive practices, like coral collections.
To prevent that, Congressman Ed Case has introduced a bill that would strengthen protections by creating a marine refuge to cover the 50-mile federal zone around the islands. That would extend the state's three-mile conservation zone recently set in place that bans both commercial and recreational fishing and removal of natural resources.
The islands encompass 70 percent of the nation's coral reefs and 7,000 species, at least a quarter of which exist nowhere else. They are a vital resource that serve as an ocean nursery for fish and other sea life and a haven for protected species.
The public, state and political officials and Hawaiian leaders overwhelming support rigorous protections for the region, the reason the state imposed its own restrictions in advance of the federal government's determination.
A bottom-fishing ban would fold neatly into the state's objectives.