Wespac plan integrates practices of ahupuaa
FOR thousands of years, Hawaiians practiced a stringent common-sense land and ocean use management process that focused on the protection of the ecosystem and preservation of natural resources. This process was created by eons of observation of nature and then put into practical use. It's simple: The health of the ocean depends on the health of the land, and vice versa, a true symbiotic relationship. It's also a proven practice that translates into Hawaiian science.
Recently, a number of articles have focused on how the fisheries in Hawaii waters, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, are in decline. Commercial fishing opponents loudly and vocally blame others for the loss of our fisheries. They blame the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (Wespac), fishermen -- both commercial and recreational -- and everyone else for the decimation of our resources and species although the best-known Western science was used at the time. Our own research has shown otherwise. Since Wespac was created in 1976, it has banned destructive fishing methods, including bottom-set gillnets, explosives, poisons and bottom longlines; imposed fishing moratoriums; and created the Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishery Management Plans, the first of its kind in the United States.
While Wespac was going forward with its ocean protection processes, the Hawaiian people were striving to address deep concerns about protecting our natural and cultural resources. Hawaiians have been strongly advocating for integrating the ahupuaa process, a common-sense approach to environment protection. When Hawaiians and Wespac finally came together, it was a natural collaboration. Both are striving for the same thing: ecosystem resource protection.
The ahupuaa approach is strongly supported by Gov. Linda Lingle and her administration, including the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the state Office of Planning, as was stated in the Ocean Resources Management Plan workshop held in October. The Hawaii Ocean and Coastal Council also actively supported incorporating Hawaiian traditional methods, or Hawaiian science, into governmental regulatory policy. A big part of the ahupuaa process and also a big part of Wespac's Fishery Ecosystem Plans is seasonal closures based on spawning cycles.
A shift in perspectives on the part of the state of Hawaii is necessary if we -- and by "we" I mean the people of Hawaii in partnership with the governmental entities -- are to protect our environment. DLNR is in the process of creating 15 permanent fishery area closures around the state. These areas are predominantly located where Hawaiians fish. This is not ahupuaa integration, but a concession to a Western process that has already proved to have failed. Before permanent closures are finalized, discussion, research and justified reasons for the site selections must be done. The communities must be involved -- all communities, all ethnic races from all walks of life. We are all stakeholders in protecting our environment and preserving our ecosystem. The Legislature recognizes this and is moving House Bill 2587, relating to marine resources, in an effort to address this critical issue.
Wespac has embraced the ahupuaa concept and indigenous cultural integration and has begun the dialogue with Hawaiians on how to incorporate Hawaiian science into practical protection for our marine fisheries and aina. The state and counties have embraced ahupuaa on the Hawaii Ocean and Coastal Council. The people have shown their support of ahupuaa through more than 30 community meetings across the state during the past three years. History has proved that Hawaiians were successful in sustaining their environment through Hawaiian science, ahupuaa and seasonal closures based on spawning cycles.
Antoinette Lee is president and Leimana DaMate chairwoman of the Ocean Resources Committee, Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. The AOHCC, formed by Prince Jonah Kuhio in 1918, is the oldest Hawaiian organization in Hawaii.