Let communities manage their marine resources
AS GRADUATE students at the University of Hawaii engaged in community development, we are disappointed in the legislative proceedings this session, especially regarding marine resource management. Our specific concern is with House Bill 1848, which was deferred indefinitely but could be reintroduced in the next session. The onus will be on our legislators to decide whether the language will support or hinder community-based resource management.
HB 1848 is based on New Jersey's "Freedom to Fish" bill. The differences between the North Atlantic and Hawaii's Pacific are undeniable, but the goals of the bills are the same. The original language of HB 1848 would limit a community's ability to manage its resources. The bill's language is strongly biased toward fishing interests while leaving out local communities. It also disregards the importance of community planning, information gathering and local knowledge in favor of scientific research. The bill's purpose is to severely limit marine management actions by requiring a thorough scientific understanding of individual fish species, habitats and other features of the marine environment.
Science is an important component of any management project, but the extensive studies that are required would be impossible to fulfill. The Department of Land and Natural Resources' precarious monetary and leadership situation add further obstacles to accomplish the scientific requirements of the original bill.
Sen. Russell Kokubun, chairman of the Water, Land, Agricultural and Hawaiian Affairs committee, rewrote the bill to financially support existing and new community-based marine management projects. The conference committee could not come to an agreement to pass any form of the bill.
Communities across Hawaii have become more active in protecting their marine resources. The success of these efforts is grounded in the fact that they are community-initiated processes that have not been imposed by the state. While the original language of HB 1848 says any management practice must be designed by a "community-based ahupuaa, moku or community-based subsistence management program previously established," it fails to describe how these groups are formed or who would comprise them. This would leave the creation of projects up to the state, rather than the communities.
Hawaii has many conflicting stakeholders with different concepts of rights and responsibilities. The western conception of rights in Hawaii has disregarded the importance of responsibility, which has led to poor management of natural resources. The community groups that managing their coastal resources are modern-day stewards who understand the traditional concepts of rights and responsibilities.
Restricting the ways local communities manage their marine resources would be detrimental. The fickle and egotistical nature of Hawaii politics could threaten this good and necessary practice.
For many, local management is a way of life, and these communities will continue this work regardless of the political climate. HB 1848 represents more than just marine management -- it raises concerns about our local politics. The 2008 Legislature will have an opportunity to help communities and improve natural resource management if its members disregard their political agendas. Community-based management is a successful practice and should be supported; after all, it is older than the Legislature itself.
Andrea Devon Bertoli is working on her master's degree in political science and Taylor T. Rock is working on his master's in urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.