Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, June 15, 2001

Pupukea fishing ban
would help us all

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources recently proposed a ban on all fishing at the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District on Oahu's North Shore. Also proposed is expansion of the area and a limit on the number of scuba divers commercial shops can have in the water at one time.

Public hearings will begin around September, giving people a chance to voice their opinions about these proposals before the department makes a ruling.

And voice their opinions they will.

Anyone who has gone to meetings on this subject knows they aren't usually pleasant experiences. Some fishermen view recreational divers as outsiders and reef wreckers who are stealing their territory. In turn, some divers and marine park advocates are opposed to fishermen, whom they feel devastate fish stocks.

I once believed that science could settle these arguments, since numerous studies show that banning fishing works. In one recent report of several marine reserves, fish densities were found to be 91 percent higher than in unprotected areas. Inside these reserves the average fish was 31 percent bigger, and species diversity was up 23 percent.

It became apparent to me that this policy benefits everyone. Sanctuaries give snorkelers and divers a place to see lots of fish, and the fishing adjacent to sanctuaries is good.

Over the years, however, I have learned that not everyone thinks the same way I do, and such statistics don't mean much to some anglers because they aren't fishing for a living or even for their supper. They're fishing for fun and therefore don't really care how many fish they catch or how big they are. A few fishermen don't even care if they catch fish at all.

Last month, I read an article titled "Fishing Pastimes" in Aloha Airlines' magazine, Spirit of Aloha. The headline grabbed me: "Some people go fishing to catch fish; some people fish just for the pure enjoyment of it."

The article, by Bert Oshiro, a staff writer for Hawaii Fishing News, began, "In my most memorable fishing experience, I didn't catch a single fish." He goes on to describe a beautiful, clear night with shooting stars.

"As I sat there with my young son," he writes, "I had a feeling of complete well-being."

When he does catch something, Oshiro writes that he likes to eat it. But a lot of anglers don't eat fish at all and still fish year-round. Oshiro's friend says he does it "for the thrill of fighting a fish."

And there's the problem: A considerable number of people go fishing for reasons other than eating fish. For some it's a family tradition. Others like the outdoors and the camaraderie. Some do it because they don't have anything else to do.

For many of these anglers, study results don't matter. "Numbers, numbers, numbers," a fisherman once growled at me during a hearing about another sanctuary proposal. "You people just don't get it."

OK, here's a non-number reason to support no fishing and limited diving at Pupukea: Using this area as a common territory that belongs to everyone is ruining it. This is an age-old problem called the tragedy of the commons, and it does not get better by itself. The only cure is restrictions.

Without them, the whole place goes down and no one gets anything.

Oahu greatly needs more places for fish to breed, for researchers to study and for residents and visitors to see Hawaii's underwater beauty. For those who need another good reason to support the state in its efforts to create such a place at Pupukea, here's the best one of all: It's the right thing to do.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears weekly in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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