House to hear resolution urging honu delisting

LIHU‘E — The state House Water Land and Ocean Committee will consider Thursday a resolution urging federal officials to delist the Hawaiian green sea turtle from the threatened list under the federal Endangered Species Act. The turtles, exploited commercially in the past in Hawai‘i, have been protected since inclusion in the ESA list in 1978.

House Resolution 61 urges the United States to recognize the recovery of the honu, or Hawaiian green sea turtle, and begin active a of the species.

Some are calling the proposed delisting a reason to celebrate. Other are seeing “active management” as a tool to allow hunting and bycatch of the honu.

Out of 11 submitted testimony, five support the resolution and five are opposed to it. Testimony from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does not have a position; it states the process to be followed since receiving a petition Feb. 16 to reclassify the turtles as a Discrete Population Segment under the ESA.

“We should celebrate the recovery of this species, one of only about 20 ESA success stories,” states a written testimony Kitty Simonds, president of the Maunalua Hawaiian Civic Club. Among other delisted species, she said, are the bald eagle, brown pelican, American alligator, gray whale, Virginia northern flying squirrel and peregrine falcon.

In the early 1970s, the state of Hawai‘i developed a management plan to limit the hunting of the honu in Hawai‘i by requiring permits and reporting, according to HR 61.

Language in the resolution states that scientific studies and native Hawaiian cultural practitioners “have concluded that the honu is approaching full recovery and that the environment and ecosystem are suffering from the current over-protection, over-population and lack of management of honu.”

“Turtles causing suffering, a joke right?” said Vivian Stoller in a written testimony. “One of the few natural species approaching a come-back and man is already mouth watering.”

The resolution cites the Fishers Forum June 16, called The Future of Honu Management, convened by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (Wespac) to inform the public about the status of the honu and the ESA process for delisting the species and to initiate community dialogue regarding the “future management of the honu.”

‘Killing honu’

Robert Wintner, owner and executive director of Snorkel Bob’s stores throughout Hawai‘i, said Wespac wants to “kill honu.”

“Wespac is not a conservation agency,” Wintner said. “Wespac has an unfortunate history of commercial fishing influence.”

Most recently, he said, Wespac tried to raise the incidental take quota on three turtle species, either endangered or threatened, for the Hawai‘i longline swordfish fishery.

Last year The Snorkel Bob Foundation, of which Wintner is president, underwrote litigation against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) through Earthjustice, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm, “to stop the Hawai‘i longline fishery from killing more turtles,” Wintner said.

“Here they go again, with the Hawai‘i House Water, Land and Oceans Committee attempting to remove any measure of control over ocean extraction in Hawai‘i,” he said. “What has that committee done, ever, to better manage marine habitat?”

Wintner accused the committee of facilitating Wespac influence on a federal decision on Hawaiian green sea turtles.

“Committee Vice Chair Sharon Har and her interests want to move this resolution forward — to delist honu in greater service to Wespac and the commercial fishing interests that rule Wespac,” he said. “But Ms. Har cannot demonstrate what the NMFS required — 5,000 breeding honu females — before allowing a cultural take.”

Har’s staff did not respond to an email and phone message by press time requesting comments.

Wintner said the case last year against NMFS highlights “arcane ocean management policy” that prevents ocean recovery.

NMFS is part of NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce.

“That means ocean management is based on revenue, and not on recovery,” he said. “These agencies should be part of the Department of the Interior, where conservation and recovery are primary management factors.”

Wintner said many Wespac members and officers are “significantly vested” in commercial extraction, and NMFS has a history of granting Wespac recommendations. “That’s the problem for Hawai‘i,” he said.

The House Water, Land and Ocean Committee will  hear the resolution Thursday in conference room 325 at the state Capitol. Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-Hanalei-Wailua, is a committee member, and can be reached at repkawakami@capitol.hawaii.gov or at (808) 586-8435.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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