Protection sought for Ni‘ihau’s subsistence fishermen

A proposed state fishing regulation would create a barrier around Ni‘ihau and Lehua islet aimed at ensuring that Niihauans catch enough fish to feed their families.

During a recent visit by Gov. Linda Lingle to Ni‘ihau local residents asked her for help in protecting their fishing grounds. Subsequently, Lingle asked state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials to act on the request.

The proposed rules, which would be called Hawaii Administrative Rules Chapter 60.7, would prevent non-residents from fishing in certain excluded waters off Ni‘ihau and Lehua. No sale or transport of fish catches off from the area would be permitted.

A hearing on the proposed law is on the agenda of a state Land Board meeting scheduled for Honolulu tomorrow.

The restricted area would stretch from the high tide mark on Ni‘ihau’s shoreline out to where the undersea shoreline drops to 20-fathoms, or 120 feet, in depth. Along the island’s coast, the boundary line would extend out a few hundred feet in places along the west shore, and up to about one and one-quarter miles in places along the east shore.

Taking marine life within the boundary would be totally prohibited for outsiders, with only Ni‘ihau shells exempt.

Ni‘ihau residents could only fish to feed their families and themselves, and the catches would have to be eaten on Ni‘ihau. Catches couldn’t be sold or bartered to someone from off island. State fishing regulations on size, season and other prohibitions that apply to other residents of Hawai‘i would need to be followed.

If a Ni‘ihau resident is caught violating the regulations, the new law could be lifted, if it is eventually enacted.

The DLNR would issue one-year permits to Ni‘ihau residents who fish, throw net, dive or otherwise collect marine life along the isolated island’s coast.

Ni‘ihauans taking marine life would have to file monthly reports describing their catches. The reports would go to the DLNR.

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