HONOLULU — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources voiced concerns recently about an increase in harmful interactions between fishers and Hawaiian monk seals.
So far this year, 24 monk-seal hookings have been reported on O‘ahu, a substantial increase compared to recent years.
Harmful interactions with seals can be decreased by following the fishing around seals and turtles guidelines (fisheries.noaa.gov/pacific-islands/resources-fishing/fishing-around-seals-and-turtles).
These include always keeping eyes on fishing gear, avoiding casting to areas where monk seals are observed, and using barbless circle hooks. These steps will help decrease the instances of hooking seals, which can injure the animals, destroy fishing gear and possibly lead to harm to the fisher.
Another serious issue observed recently is the intentional “provisioning,” or feeding of seals.
On O‘ahu’s Leeward Coast, where large nearshore schools of halalu (juvenile akule) have attracted numerous fishermen and monk seals, the DAR has seen fishermen feeding halalu to nearby seals.
While the fishermen’s intentions may be good, this is dangerous to both humans and the seals. In almost all cases, the seals will learn to associate people with food and increasingly poach off fishers, leading to even more interactions, possible seal injuries and fishermen losing their catch.
Feeding or attempting to feed a monk seal is prohibited under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Seals that are fed hinders their ability to survive as wild animals, and continuing to feed seals may eventually impact a very-large number of fishers and resource users.
Anyone observing someone intentionally feeding monk seals should call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hotline at 1-888-256-9840.
Further, DAR recommends never attempting to enter the water with a monk seal nearby, even to attempt to free it from gear it may have ingested. Instead, call the hotline, and DAR or NOAA employees will respond as soon as possible.