LIHUE — Conservation is important for local fisherman and businessman Stanton Yoshimori.
“Fishing is in our culture. All of us have been raised upon the ocean and how to respect the ocean and take what you need,” said Yoshimori, owner of ReelNauti Kauai. “I always tell my kids to take what you need. Because when they get older and when they ever get kids, at least going (to) have fish for them to catch.”
U.S. officials say the first-ever assessment of Hawaii’s reef fish shows that 11 of 27 species are experiencing some level of overfishing.
Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center announced in a statement Monday that 11 species including ulua, five surgeonfishes, two goatfishes, and three parrotfishes are being overfished.
Yoshimori, who’s been fishing for over 20 years, said fishing is an important activity.
“It’s something you can always do — no matter if you’re young or old. You can go out with family, your kids. It’s a tradition.”
Scientists say the most susceptible species are those that live the longest and are popular local food sources.
“For example, kala can live for decades, are a popular target, and are currently experiencing overfishing,” according to NOAA officials. “Compare that with species such as weke nono (Pflueger’s goatfish) that only live up to six years and are in better condition.”
Invasive species are also part of the problem, said Duston Kubo, a local angler.
“Back then, young kid days, I remember going to Wailua Beach and catch moi. Nowadays, it’s hard time to catch some fish period,” he said. “I see more invasive species like the toau and taape.”
Anglers need to guard the local fishery, said Shanna Grafeld, an ecological economist and former researcher for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management University of Hawaii Manoa.
Most of the nearshore fish being caught — reef fish like goat fish, parrot fish, opelu, moi — are being eaten by locals, she said.
“You want to keep track of your (fish) stocks because you want to make sure you’re not over fishing,” she said. “Because 20 years from now, it will be super rare to have a parrot fish at your kid’s graduation party.”
Take only what you and your family can eat and throw the rest back, Kubo said.
“(Fishing is) our way of life. Hawaiians used to live off the ocean and the mountains,” he said. “I believe it’s the best way to live. You can go fishing and catch dinner.”
Reef fish, like the ulua, are popular among local fishermen. It’s a fish Yoshimori and his family target.
“Every time I give the fish away to like my grandparents because they don’t fish anymore,” he said. “It always brings a smile to their face. It keeps them happy.”
Officials say surgeonfish and parrotfishes are the most vulnerable species, while goatfish are doing better, officials say.
NOAA officials say they collected information on fish size, maximum age, growth rates and maturity and compared the results with established guidelines to present fishery managers with options for future sustainability.
Reef fish support local tourism and fishing economies and are important to Native Hawaiian culture and the health of the overall ocean ecosystem.
As part of the culture, Yoshimori believes conservation is as equally important to teach the keiki as is fishing.
“It’s giving back to those taught us — like my grandfather and my father,” he said. “My father taught me, and I taught my son. It’s the main thing, giving back aloha.”