LIHUE — Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t require licenses or fees for recreational fishing, but officials are considering changing that.
A public meeting on potential statewide noncommercial fishing regulations is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Kauai Veterans Center in Lihue, one of several statewide meetings to be held on the topic this month.
The proposal is a result of a Conservation International Hawaii and Western Pacific Fishery Council report on noncommercial fishing, released nearly two years ago.
It lays out potentially requiring permits, registry and fees for recreational fishing in Hawaii, which is the only U.S. state without noncommercial fishing regulations.
Opponents, particularly Native Hawaiians, see fishing as a right and an integral part of their culture.
The report, which does not advocate for or against the idea, says there are no laws to prevent regulation and that it’s possible to implement them without violating Native Hawaiian gathering rights protected under state law.
“I recreationally fish, but it’s to put food on the table,” said Billy Lum, 61, who’s been fishing in Hawaii for the last half-century. “I know a lot of Hawaiians are going to be totally against anything like that because we’re so used to being able to go out and provide food for the family.”
Conservation International Hawaii program director Matt Ramsey said his organization isn’t lobbying on behalf of either side of the issue.
“This meeting is not part of the rulemaking process,” Ramsey said. “I think a large misconception out there is that this is somehow related to state regulation or a legislative effort, and that’s definitely not the case. While those two things may happen on their own, we are not involved in that at all.”
The plan would require statutory authority from the state Legislature, but House Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, said multiple bills have already been introduced to address noncommercial fishing regulation, including proposals to implement fees only on nonresidents who fish recreationally.
For a licensing system that also charges residents a fee, Lowen said Gov. David Ige would have to support the plan.
“If the administration is not on board with it, it would probably be dead in the water,” Lowen said.
The report itself looks at how fisheries are interconnected with Hawaii’s environment, economy, food and culture and the impacts that are currently affecting them with three objectives in mind: to provide more data on fishery management, to foster a dialogue between fishers and managers, and to create a source of independent funding to support management.
Meetings statewide will be led by a small collaborative study group of fisheries resource managers, experts and representatives from fisher organizations and nongovernmental groups.
“We are neutral,” the group’s announcement states. “Our group has taken a neutral approach to whether there should be a requirement or any preferences for a specific option.”
A copy of the report can be downloaded at goo.gl/g8tp3m.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com. West Hawaii Today contributed to this report.