Hawaiian Fisheries Program Marks CI’s First Conservation Project in the U.S.

Dr. Greg Stone & Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Dr. Greg Stone of CI speaks as Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (far right) and Melissa Bos from CI (second from right) look on. (Photo c/o Office of the Governor, State of Hawaii)

The people of Hawaii have a special relationship with the sea. Hawaiians:

  • Eat more than twice as much seafood, per capita, as the average U.S. citizen;
  • Depend upon ocean-reliant businesses for billions of dollars in income each year;
  • And count on fishing, surfing, swimming and kayaking as a way of life.

Yet marine resources in the main Hawaiian islands are being stretched thin. The islands have lost 75 percent of their fish population in recent years. Much of this decline can be attributed to unsustainable coastal development and pollution. In addition, there’s a lot of ocean around Hawaii, and it’s not always easy to monitor illegal activity and enforce existing laws.

It would be a real shame if a continued lack of enforcement took away part of what makes Hawaii so special. So Conservation International (CI) has stepped in to help.

Along with partners that include the state of Hawaii and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, CI will help fund “Fisheries Enforcement Units” to monitor illegal activity in the waters of Hawaii. We’re helping to put enforcement officers on the water — officers charged with stopping the bad actors taking advantage of Hawaii’s natural resources.

“Our goal is to ensure that local communities have access to sustainable and locally caught seafood for generations to come,” says Melissa Bos. Melissa is director of CI’s Hawaii Fish Trust Program — and a major reason why Hawaii has taken this historic step forward.

A First for CI

This effort also marks something of a first for CI, as Dr. Greg Stone, our chief scientist for oceans, pointed out at a press conference last week with Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie. CI has offices in nearly 30 countries, and we do work in about twice that number. Yet — though we have offices in the D.C. area, Seattle, and Hawaii — this program is CI’s first conservation project in the U.S.

“I think it’s very fitting that Hawaii is the first time that we work in the United States,” Dr. Stone said.

After all, Hawaii might be a U.S. state, but geographically, it’s a Pacific Island. And CI has long been active in the Pacific:

In fact, given the vast array of life in the Pacific, and the huge benefits it brings to humanity, it would almost be crazy to not work to turn the tide in Hawaii.

Dr. Stone also pointed out that King David Kalakaua of Hawaii, the islands’ last monarch, was one of the first heads of state to travel all the way around the world — way back in the 19th century. Hawaii is “an international state,” Dr. Stone said, so it makes sense for Conservation International to work there.

“We’re committing our intellectual capital, our friendship, our passion, our hearts, and whatever else you need … to take care of the great ocean,” Dr. Stone told those present at last week’s press conference.

Better Enforcement, Improved Lives

What will Fisheries Enforcement Units do in Hawaii? Simple. Each unit will have one supervisory captain, two field officers, one educational specialist and one administrative support position. Each unit will also have a boat, boat storage facilities close to ocean entry points, and necessary maintenance and fuel budgets to ensure adequate surveillance time on the water.

In short, Hawaii is getting more resources to enforce the laws already on its books.

For the Hawaiian people, this improved marine enforcement means more food security. It means more job stability. And it means that the one-quarter of Hawaiian households that regularly fish will be able to enjoy their time on the water — and catch fish for generations to come.

Thanks are in order to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the Castle Foundation, our local NGO partners, and everyone else who has helped put this initiative together. It’s an exciting endeavor, one that we hope will provide a model for others looking to protect fisheries for everyone, everywhere.

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