ELEELE — Fists in the air, a few fishermen in the crowd of 150 whale sanctuary expansion opponents threw back their heads and howled, “I oppose!”
If nothing more, it was good practice.
Next up, Josh Wilson, a 31-year-old commercial fisherman from Wailua, grabbed the microphone.
“We’re the next generation, us guys,” he said. “We want our kids to fish in the same places we used to.”
Five days before the first of two public hearings on Kauai about federally proposed changes to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, fishermen, activists, surfers and scientists gathered at Port Allen Harbor Wednesday to spread the word that they have the power to shut down the changes if they make loud and strong their collective voice.
Among the group’s top complaints: federal government overreach and a controversial boundary expansion, namely one that would limit the activities of fishermen in the waters surrounding Niihau.
“Niihau is really the sister island of Kauai and it’s been that way for hundreds of years, so we’ve been part of Niihau’s life and Niihau’s been part of Kauai’s existence and now they are trying to shut us out of the waters around that island,” said Greg Holzman, a commercial fisherman from Kekaha. “One of our biggest concerns and complaints is that the reason why the sanctuary is shutting these waters down is not because it’s overfished, it’s because it’s the most pristine area in the Hawaiian Islands and because of that they feel that they need to take it and protect the ecosystem. What they’re really doing is squeezing the hardworking, blue collar, everyday guy on Kauai.”
The precise impact of the proposed changes on fishermen is unclear, but several people said they fear the worst.
“If you never have to go out and fish to eat because you have substantial income and you can afford to go out to the supermarket, that’s a very different lifestyle,” said Lyn McNutt, a retired NOAA scientist from Wailua. “Let’s save this way of life.”
Co-managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Hawaii, the sanctuary aims to protect humpback whales and their habitat, while educating the public on the relationship between humpbacks and Hawaii’s marine environment.
It is one of the most important humpback whale habitats in the world.
In March, environmental regulators proposed a new sanctuary management plan that calls for a boundary expansion that would add 235 square miles of state and federal waters around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau, bringing the total sanctuary area to 1,601 square miles.
The new management plan would also expand the types of species protected in sanctuary waters and generate new opportunities to work closely with communities on priority resource protection issues.
But the plan’s major opponents say they are most concerned about the boundary expansion.
The boundary encircling Niihau would extend around three nautical miles from the island’s shoreline.
Holzman said that while he recognizes its important contributions to public education, he would like to see the sanctuary shrink in size rather than grow.
“The real big threat that we see facing our coastal ecosystem is climate change, run off, and military sonar and doplar radar,” Holzman said. “The sanctuary has no jurisdiction over these things. The sanctuary can’t control what’s going on in the air, they can’t control what’s going on on land, they can’t control the military.
“We just feel it’s redundant,” he added.
Members of the public can learn more about the proposal and submit public comments at three-three hour meetings scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Kilauea Elementary School, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Waimea Middle School and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at King Kaumualii Elementary School. Another meeting is for Niihau residents and landowners only at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Niihau School.
Brittany Lyte, enviromental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441.