By Ilima Loomis
Article Source: The Maui News 
12/02/05KAHULUI – The Department of Land and Natural Resources will propose a total ban on gill nets in the waters around Maui, while allowing the practice to continue on Molokai and Lanai, a move that would reduce significantly use of the nets that critics say deplete fish and damage reefs.
During an informal meeting Thursday evening at Maui Waena Intermediate School, a crowd of 110 people was deeply divided over the issue that gill net users said is a cultural right.
Presenting the plan at the "talk story" session, DLNR Chairman Peter Young said he expected to officially submit the proposal to the Board of Land and Natural Resources next month.
Parts of the Big Island and Oahu also would be covered by a ban. Formal hearings will be held on each island to discuss the proposal before the board makes a decision on it, he said.
Young emphasized to the audience that the proposal applies only to unattended lay nets, and that other active fishing techniques using nets would still be allowed.
"We’re not talking about throw nets. We’re not talking about surround nets. We’re not talking about akule nets. We’re not talking about scoop nets," he said. "We’re talking about lay gill nets."
In waters around Lanai, Molokai and the other islands still open to gill nets, there would be restrictions on net size and on how long they could be left in place, he said.
Hawaiian cultural advocate Edwin Lindsey contradicted those who said the ban would interfere with traditional practices, saying overfishing was taking its toll on the ocean.
"If we’re talking Hawaiian culture, let’s talk about it," he said. "Without fish, no more Hawaiian culture."
He said fishing techniques that were used 30 or 40 years ago were no longer sustainable because the island was overpopulated. He called for a moratorium on gill nets or an outright ban.
Many of those opposed to the ban were fishermen who said they use gill nets. They said critics were mostly "haoles" who didn’t understand subsistence fishing.
"I fish with this kind of net my whole life," said 75-year-old Mitchell Pauole-Lani of Kanaio and Molokai, displaying his "beautiful" gill net to the crowd.
Pauole-Lani said he fished responsibly, laying the net over sandy areas, not on reefs where it could cause damage. And even though he used the net only a few times a year, he felt it was important to have the option of using it when he fished to feed his family of 11 children.
"Ban is an ugly word to me," he said. "Very, very bad."
Charlie Villalon was one of many who said banning lay nets would be just another infringement on Hawaiians practicing their culture. He wanted to be free to fish in the tradition of his ancestors.
"It’s not fair. They’re taking too much from us," he said.
He scoffed at gill net critics, saying they could not fully understand the issue and had no right to restrict fishing.
"When was the last time you ate the fish you caught and fed your family?" he asked.
On the other side, supporters of the ban said gill nets were a major reason why fish populations have been depleted in the ocean around Maui. They described the nets as indiscriminate fish killers that also damage coral reefs.
Kihei resident and Maui Planning Commissioner Diane Shepherd called gill netting "the most destructive way you can fish." There would still be plenty of other legal options for fishing if the nets were banned, she added.
Saying she dives regularly, Shepherd said only protected reef sites like the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve still have populations of fish.
"We all know how bad this is," she said.
Many of those speaking in favor of the ban were also longtime Maui fishermen who said a noticeable decline in fish was making it harder for them to enjoy their sport or bring home food for the family. Darrell Tanaka said he used to fish with lay nets, but no longer.
"I gave it up because of the depletion," he said.
Anyone who fishes on Maui can see there isn’t as much life in the ocean as there used to be, he said. He called for a total ban on lay nets, as well as a ban on aquarium fishing and the establishment of bag limits for legal fishing.
"There is no room for compromise," he said. "If we compromise, the only thing we’re going to compromise is our reefs, our resource."
Tommy Ligsay of Kihei said there were a lot of reasons why there were fewer fish on Maui than before, and that gill nets weren’t solely responsible.
Snorkelers and dive tours drove fish away by crowding around the best reefs, he noted. "I can take you to places in Kihei that get choke fish," he said. "No more tourists are there. That’s why there’s fish!"
Most locals use lay nets responsibly or don’t use them at all, Ligsay said. He said the state should be focused instead on stopping "Filipino sticky net" fishing, a small-mesh net that hangs slack in the water and entangles everything in its path, big or small.
"They’re robbing the ocean," he said.
Long gill nets, also called lay nets or moimoi ("to stay in place"), are set across channels or over reefs and left unattended for hours at a time, snaring fish by the gills.
Similar netting is used by akule fishermen, throw-netters and in paipai fishing, where fish are chased into a net by slapping the water. But those active fishing techniques would not be affected by a ban, which would restrict only nets left to soak unattended.
DLNR has been studying proposals to restrict gill nets for more than two years, hearing passionate pleas on both sides of the debate. A series of meetings held around the state last year drew an overwhelming number of people speaking against a ban, while a written survey later circulated attracted just as many comments supporting it.
The Maui Governor’s Council of Advisors recommended to Gov. Linda Lingle that the state ban lay gill nets, while the Molokai council has asked that the Friendly Isle be exempt.
There was near-universal agreement among the speakers Thursday that poor state management and inadequate enforcement of existing fishing rules have been big factors in the decline of fish populations.
"The reason we need a ban on gill nets is we all know there aren’t enough enforcement officers to go out and make sure (the net) gets checked every half hour," Shepherd said.
Nancy Biery of Haiku said the state government is underfunding critical environmental protections like natural resources enforcement.
"Tell the governor that it’s her job as the leader of the state to take care of the resources," she said.
Young mollified the crowd by noting that the budget for DLNR had increased from $60 million when Lingle took office to $77 million today, and he hinted there would be another "significant increase" in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2007.
DLNR was considering various strategies for improving enforcement, he added. One recent step involves having violators taken to hearings before the Land Board, where larger civil fines could be assessed.
But he added that enforcement wasn’t the only answer. People in the community also need to be more responsible and police themselves, he said.
"There will never be enough DOCARE officers if people don’t comply with the rules," he said, referring to state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement personnel.