Fisherman wants more local control of regulations

ANAHOLA — Kawika Cutcher of Anahola wants more Native Hawaiians and local fishermen to play a bigger role in fashioning rules to regulate fishing in Hawai‘i, and wants state officials to butt out.

To that end, Cutcher, a fisherman for 47 years and a U.S. Army veteran, has mounted a petition drive that has generated 2,500 signatures of people who don’t want Gov. Linda Lingle to initiate any more laws to ban or limit use of gill nets or lay nets along the coastline, or to establish marine-protection zones.

Government scientists and offices have good intentions in trying to preserve Hawai‘i’s coastal fish stock, but approval of proposed rules being considered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will only hurt local fishermen more in the long run, Cutcher insisted.

“We have a lot of people who have pseudo-science about ecology, non-practitioners,” Cutcher told The Garden Island yesterday. “And every time they make laws, local people and Hawaiians suffer.”

The DLNR is proposing the amendment of lay-net rules to protect fishery resources.

The latest refinement relates to the possession of caught fish, and the use of certain fishing gear.

Part of the concern by DLNR is that fish left too long in nets are eaten by predators, or are thrown away because of spoilage.

In addition, turtles have become entangled in gill nets that have not been checked or have not been removed. The minimum mesh-net eye size is 2.75 inches.

The proposed rules are to be sent out for public comment.

The proposed changes represent the continuation of efforts of a state-sponsored Gill Net Task Force, DLNR Chairperson Peter Young said in a previous news release.

DLNR has proposed key refinements to the gill-net rules that date back to 1977.

Cutcher said opposition to the latest government efforts to protect Hawai‘i’s fish stock stemmed from an “info-commercial” television broadcast last December that advocated a ban of all gill-net fishing.

Cutcher said the airing of the commercial left him stunned.“I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Cutcher said he initiated the petition drive.

Cutcher said approval of the rules would further hamper traditional Hawaiian practices.

“They have a foreign concept,” Cutcher said.

Cutcher said he is teaching his 2-year-old grandson how to fish, and dreads the day when someone can tell him that “something he is doing (related to fishing that has been practiced by the Cutcher ‘ohana for generations) is wrong.”

Cutcher said he favors the protection of the fish population, and likes the idea that the government refined the gill-net eye size to 2.75 inches.

The change means only large reef fish can be caught, and the keiki (young) fish can slip through the net, grow up and perpetuate their species, Cutcher said.

But state DLNR leaders are going overboard by considering rules that could close off fishing in certain areas of the state, including Kaua‘i, to try to prevent overfishing and allow replenishment of fish stocks, Cutcher contends.

Nature has provided a natural defense against overfishing of reef fish on Kaua‘i, Cutcher said.

“Fish are always having babies,” he said. “The Na Pali Coast waters (on the northwest coastline of Kaua‘i) are rough, except during the summer, so there is a natural, built-in sanctuary for fish, where they can always perpetuate.”

In a brief interview by phone from his office on O‘ahu, Cliff Inn, the education outreach coordinator for the DLNR, said marine-life-conservation districts and fisheries-management areas, fish-protection zones established by the DLNR, are needed to protect fish stocks.

Marine-life-conservation districts have been established at Hanauma Bay and at Waikiki Beach on O‘ahu, Inn said.

And fisheries-management areas, where fishing could be allowed one year and not allowed the following year to allow fish stocks to replenish, also are found throughout the state.

The banning of gill-net fishing in certain parts of the state also could help save fish stocks in areas where the prohibition would be in effect, Inn said.

A catalyst for the continued government refinement of the gill-net rules was the use of a new type of long gill-net, sometimes over a mile in length, along the Wai‘anae Coast of O‘ahu in 1997, DLNR officials said.

The monofilament net was set on the bottom of the ocean in depths of 200 feet or more via a hydraulically-operated drum on the bow of a boat, officials said.

Long-time Wai‘anae fishermen became alarmed that the new type of gill-net could damage the reef habitat of fish, ruining fishing opportunities for all, officials said.

This concern prompted the formation of the Gill Net Task Force, comprising various fishermen, with support from staff with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources staff, officials said.

Members of the task force came from Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui and the Big Island, and they initially focused their attention on gill nets used for ocean fishing.

The group later expanded its scope of interest to gill nets used closer to the shoreline and, in 1999, presented recommendations to DLNR on the management of gill-net use.

A fishing survey was done, with input from residents, DLNR officials said.

Results of the survey are posted at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dar/library/laynet_mgmt.htm.

DLNR welcomes public input on the latest proposed refinement of gill-net fishing.

From their perspective, DLNR officials should not spend the time and energy to refine the rules because “they can’t even enforce the existing rules,” Cutcher said.

New rules will “further bind the local person even more,” he said, adding that the “real solution is to have more law enforcement of the existing laws.

“We need a night shift and day shift (of state DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement law-enforcement officers) to do their jobs,” Cutcher said.

“Every time they make a law, I feel they have the attitude that ‘I am here to protect the environment,’” Cutcher said. “But they (government experts) don’t fish, they don’t farm. They are just blowing smoke.”

On Kaua‘i, the task of regulating fishing should be shared to a much greater extent by local fishermen, “because we have been doing it (fishing) all our lives,” and “because we know,” Cutcher said.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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