Fishing may be target of coral reef concern

Open letter to Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary of Commerce, and Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior: I am providing the following comments regarding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands “visioning sessions” in Hawai’i.

The coral reef ecosystem in the islands is in excellent condition. In fact, the information provided the public at the visioning sessions describes the near pristine condition of coral reefs in the islands as proof that existing regulations are more than adequate to protect the reefs.

I am concerned that the goal of this exercise is to close fisheries in the islands. There is not a problem with the fisheries or the current management system. There are only 17 bottomfish permits and 15 lobster permits allowed in the entire 1,100 miles stretch of the islands. Fisheries are healthy, with lobsters being harvested at 13 percent of maximum sustainable yield and bottomfish at less than 50 percent of maximum sustainable yield. Fisheries have existed in the islands since the early 1900s, and in the 1960s a governor-appointed task force recommended that fisheries be further developed.

The culture of Pacific islanders is closely tied to the ocean and its creatures. The contribution of fish and lobster from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands helps relieve pressure on stocks in the main Hawaiian Islands. Today, the fishery resources of the Northwest islands provide employment to thousands of local islanders, fresh seafood for local and export markets, hotels and signature restaurants in Hawai’i.

Congress gave the task of managing fisheries in the Northwest islands to the Western Pacific Council, which has done a good job. Bottomfish, crustacean and precious corals are strictly regulated under existing management plans. And the council, after working with the public for the past couple years, is near completion of a comprehensive coral reef ecosystem plan that includes large areas where no fishing is to occur.

Why is the President soliciting comments on protecting coral reefs in the Northwest islands when there is no problem? It appears the purpose of this visioning process is entirely political. If we truly want to manage the islands’ marine resources, including the coral reef ecosystem, for the future, you should continue management through the Department of Commerce and fishery councils.

JONATHAN HURD, Hanapepe

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