Lay gillnets are killing traditional way of life
FISHING in Hawaii was much different when my father first took me nearly 40 years ago. We'd fish in Kuliouou and Maunalua Bay, and even though I thought there were plenty of fish to catch, he would tell stories of how much better it was when he was a child. I remember his tales of seeing thousands of mullet and an abundance of aweoweo, weke and kumu.
Anyone who has fished for a long time in Hawaii will tell you they've seen a big drop in numbers of our reef fish. What's out there today is nothing compared with what I saw in my youth. It's past time for us to get concerned about that, and to take action before it is too late.
I have many concerns about threats facing our main islands' reefs and fish. I worry about pollution and about sedimentation from coastal development. I'm concerned about invasive species, such as the alien algae smothering the reefs in Waikiki and encroaching on areas in Maunalua Bay. And taape, non-native fish that multiply fast, are overrunning the nearshore area. But I'm also concerned about the role that all of us play, whether we are the fishers or those who share in the bounty of the catch. I'm concerned that we are simply taking too many fish out of the ocean, and I worry if anything will be left for the next generation.
What is needed is a change in mind-set in how we manage our natural resources. Hawaiians traditionally focused on how the mountains, land and sea were connected, and they took great care of their ahupuaa to ensure it would provide for all people. We have the great model of the konohiki system, yet today we've lost much of that connection to our environment, particularly in the way we treat the ocean.
One example is the way that monofilament lay gillnets are used today. My family used to lay net for big gatherings of family and friends. Two nets of fish would feed us all, and it was always eaten immediately, with nothing wasted and nothing frozen.
BUT TODAY, many are laying net in a daily assault on our reef fish. I've seen 10 nets linked for more than a thousand feet, draped like curtains inside the reef. That's not fishing for the family. Too many fish are being caught at once, including the keiki fish that haven't had a chance to reproduce and the older ones that are so important to rebuilding our fish populations.
The way many lay gillnets are being used today violates our Hawaiian values of taking only what you need and leaving some for tomorrow. We just might have to stop laying net for a while to give our fish a chance to recover.
It is also vital that we educate the next generation about how to better care for our ocean. I want to imagine taking my future grandchildren to the spot along the reef's edge where I often went as a child at night to watch countless numbers of fish swim under the light of a lantern. There's not much to show today, but maybe it's not too late to change that for the future.
Bruce Blankenfeld is a recreational fisherman who lives in Niu Valley.