Hawai‘i state House District 15 Rep. James Tokioka wants to get to the bottom of a state Department of Land and Natural Resources proposal limiting the length of gill nets on Kaua‘i for the first time.
But Peter Young, chairman of the board of DLNR, said the rule changes considered since 2003 have been approved by the board and will go into effect shortly.
The rule changes have incensed some Kaua‘i fishermen who want fewer, not more regulations.
“They just keep taking and taking,” said Kawika Cutcher, an Anahola man and U.S. Army veteran who has fished for nearly 50 years. “When is it going to stop?”
Tokioka, whose district includes East and South Kaua‘i, said Friday, many Kaua‘i fishermen have complained about the new rule to limit the length of the nets — used for coastal recreational and commercial fishing — to 125 feet and a height of 7 feet, with a mesh square of less than 3 inches.
Fishermen previously used individual nets ranging between 125 to 150 feet, but some have connected nets so that the fishing line extends to 1,000 feet.
Tokioka said Friday the new rule “is restricting what is in existence now.”
But Young said changes are not about banning gill nets or lay nets, just regulating their length.
“It is about making sure there is fish for the future,” Young said from Honolulu yesterday.
He said the rule changes have been considered since 2003 and have been followed up by nine public meetings and nine public hearings.
“(The rule changes are) not all of a sudden,” he said. “It has been part of a long, deliberate process to get broad comments from across the state.”
Public testimony also was taken before the board approved the rule changes last year.
The rule changes haven’t taken effect yet because the DLNR extended the public comment process, Young said, adding “the rules are going to go into effect.”
Tokioka said it is his belief the recommendations against new rules by Kaua‘i fishermen went unheard, adding the “rules seemed to apply differently to each island.”
Moloka‘i will be the only island where fishermen can use lay nets or gill nets that are up to 750 feet in length and are 7 feet in height.
“DLNR is saying the restriction size is being set because of concerns about monk seals and turtles,” Tokioka said. “But I am pretty sure we have the same types of monk seals and turtles on Kaua‘i. And if (protecting the marine life) is a concern on Kaua‘i, why is it not a concern on Moloka‘i.”
Tokioka said DLNR needs to develop rules that can be applied uniformly.
Under the rule changes, a Kaua‘i fishermen can use only one net at a time, cannot lay a net within 250 feet of another net, cannot use a net in waters deeper than 25 feet, cannot use a net for more than four hours in one session and cannot leave the net unattended for more than 30 minutes.
Cutcher said he and members of West Pak, a statewide group of Native Hawaiian fishermen, met in Anahola recently and agreed to ask the state House of Representatives, including Tokioka, to introduce legislation that would “control the activities of the DLNR.”
“We feel the DLNR findings to support limitations on funding are not based on sound scientific evidence,” he said.
DLNR officials have said exhaustive studies, with comments from residents, have been done before rule changes were sent to the Land Board for action.
“They shouldn’t make any more rules and just enforce what they have now,” Cutcher said. “If anything, more DLNR officers should be hired and trained to enforce the existing rules.”
Some state officers have not provided accurate and credible information in claimed violation cases, Cutcher contends.
More officers should be hired to enforce the laws on the book, not new rules, Cutcher said.
A number of state law enforcement officers has come from the Kaua‘i Police Department, where they have gone through extensive training and continuos training.
Kaua‘i fishermen don’t need more rules as they self-regulate themselves to protect fish stock, Cutcher said. “It is common sense you don’t put four,125-foot-long gill nets overnight, because you will kill everything,” Cutcher said. He said DLNR has forged new rules from scientific practices that don’t apply to Hawai‘i. “Mainland science is good for the Mainland,” he said. “But island science works best for an island.”
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org.