Enforcement needed for gill net restrictions
The state has proposed regulations for lay gill net fishing.
INDISCRIMINATE catches taken in by lay gill nets make the method a prime target for fishing restrictions the state is proposing
. Though the nets are but one reason for the decline of Hawaii's near-shore fish populations, the rules reflect the need to reduce pressure on the ocean ecosystem and still would allow responsible recreational, commercial and subsistence fishers to harvest from the sea.
The stronger regulations are necessary, but they won't be fully effective unless enforced, and that can't happen with the woefully inadequate number of officers available.
The proposed regulations would significantly change lay gill net fishing. Unlike Florida, California, Georgia and other coastal states, Hawaii has few restraints.
The rules would limit the size and number of nets, the distance and depths they cover, the amount of time they can be set in the water and left unattended, and the areas where they can be used. Nets would have to be registered and carry identification so owners can be held accountable.
At present, irresponsible fishermen set nets and leave them sometimes overnight or even longer before retrieval, haphazardly snaring everything that swims into them. Unwanted fish, protected species such as turtles and spawning fish are caught and killed needlessly.
Because the nets are made mostly of cheap monofilament, there is little thought to abandoning them. They can end up entangling sea creatures such as seals and damaging coral and plants for extended periods.
The rules would ban the nets along areas in West Hawaii and around most of Oahu's eastern and southern coasts. All of Maui's near-shore waters would be off limits, as residents on that island have asked.
The proposed rules would not affect active net fishing with throw nets, akule or opelu nets and bag nets. The state also is considering an exemption for pa'ipa'i netting, where fish are chased into a net by slapping or churning the water.
The proposals have met some resistance, but most fishers appear to see the wisdom of the restrictions, as do the knowledgeable authors of the article on page F5 of this section, who make a case for banning the monofilament nets.
The new restrictions also are supported by The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, Malama Hawaii and SeaWeb -- and their polling shows an overwhelming majority of state residents agree.
They point out, however, that the hole in the plan is enforcement. The state acknowledges that its 100 or so enforcement officers -- whose duties include protecting 3 million acres of ocean waters, millions of acres of forests, parks and conservation lands, boating facilities, cruise ship security and drug enforcement -- cannot possibly cover all the bases. Hawaii's natural resources are far too important to leave to such scant defense; more officers are needed.