Group lures fishermen to stop
Boat owners can be compensated if they cease working near a conservation area
A conservation group has sent letters to eight fishing boat owners, offering to pay them to quit fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The Pew Charitable Trusts has asked the fishermen if they would be willing to stop fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument sooner than the five-year phase-out required in the presidential announcement of the monument last month, Pew spokesman Jay Nelson said.
President Bush declared the 140,000-square-mile area surrounding Hawaii's most remote islands as the nation's -- and world's -- largest marine conservation area on June 15. The decision surprised conservationists, who had been working for more than six years to give the unique coral reef ecosystem more protection. The area was in the process of being named the 14th national marine sanctuary.
The Pew letter asked fishing boat owners to respond by mid-August if they want to discuss a compensation package that would be offered by Pew and other conservation groups and individuals, Nelson said yesterday at a media briefing at the Pacific Club.
"We're seeking a negotiated settlement earlier than five years ... to allow a more rapid transition to protected status," Nelson said. "Fair and reasonable compensation" for giving up their permits "would allow the fishers to get some economic certainty and move on to what they're going to do next," he said.
What is next might be fishing in the main Hawaiian islands, longline fishing in the open ocean or another line of work entirely, Nelson said.
Nelson said the amount of compensation would vary by fisherman, based on their past efforts in the area, risk and market prices.
He also said that Pew is only interested in offering a compensation package for all eight of the boats -- not just a few -- and that it hopes an agreement could be reached this year.
The conservation groups will only agree to a settlement if the federal government agrees not to issue more permits to fish in the area, Nelson said.
If no voluntary settlement is reached, the boats could continue to fish there until June 2011. The president's proclamation sets a cap on the total amount of fish that can be removed at 350,000 pounds of bottom fish (including uku, hapuupuu, ehu, onaga, opakapaka and kahala) and 180,000 pounds for pelagic (open ocean) species each remaining year.
State records show that in 2004 that nine commercial fishing boats permitted in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands caught about one-third of the total 495,000 pounds of bottom fish harvested in all Hawaii waters.
Only one of the fishing boat owners could be reached yesterday for comment.
Billy Wakefield said he received the letter but has not decided how he will respond or talked to others who fish the region. He has said in the past that he would consider getting out of the area early, if the compensation was adequate.
"I don't know how it's going to work out," Wakefield said yesterday.
Wakefield said his boat, the Jaime Elizabeth, has been fishing for bottom fish near Kauai since the monument announcement last month, rather than in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Retired Hawaii Judge Patrick Yim has been retained by Pew to lead discussions with the fishermen, Nelson said.
An Alaska-based certified public accountant, who assisted in a mandatory settlement with an eight-boat Alaska fishery, will assist Pew with calculating fair compensation for the fishermen, Nelson said.
Nelson said he believes the closure of the Glacier Bay crab fishery in the 1990s was the first time an entire fishery was closed by buyouts. There have been numerous cases in which the federal government bought out some fishing licenses or permits to reduce pressure on an overfished area, he said.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands case would be the first time Pew has been involved in a fishery buyout, Nelson said.