Last weekend, CI’s Hawaii Fish Trust gifted a new, state-of-the-art fisheries enforcement vessel to the state of Hawaii during a community event in Kahului, Maui. This vessel, named Kai`aiki (the Hawaiian name for the local wind), will be part of the new Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit that will be based on Maui’s North Shore.
Randy Awo, chief administrator for the state’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE), summed up the initiative best as he addressed the crowd of over 100 people:
“With a relatively small force of officers and a very large area of responsibility, we have become reactionary to the point where we have begun to fail Hawaii. The partnership that is being launched today is casting aside an older, less effective way of protecting Hawaii’s fisheries, and it sets us on a new course to become better at what we do.”
These were very powerful words — not only because Randy is the head of DOCARE, but also because he’s a native Hawaiian who still carries with him the values of his ancestors.
People in Hawaii are inextricably connected to the sea; they use it to gather seafood for their families, practice cultural traditions and for much-needed recreation. As Eric Co from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation said during the ceremony, “The ocean was a nursery ground for our culture, and today still it almost completely defines our way of life.”
Unfortunately, that way of life is being compromised. Currently, 75% of Hawaii’s nearshore fish species are in threatened or critical condition. This is due to a number of factors: coastal development destroying essential fish habitat, land-based pollution and sediment smothering our coral reefs, and illegal and destructive fishing practices impacted the remaining stocks. Obviously, we are not taking very good care of something that plays such an essential role in our lives.
These issues are exacerbated by understaffed and underfunded enforcement measures. As a prime tourism destination, Hawaii’s natural resources are an essential component of the state’s economy; about 60% of Hawaii’s economy is related to ocean-dependent businesses. Yet despite this clear economic value of nature, the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) only receives 1% of the overall state budget.
DLNR’s conservation enforcement division, DOCARE, has approximately 97 officers statewide who are responsible for patrolling more than 3 million acres [1.2 million hectares] of water, the fourth-largest coastline in the nation, 1.3 million acres [526,000 hectares] of state land and the 11th-largest forest reserve in the U.S. To put this is in perspective, the island of Oahu alone has 2,500 police officers.
Since 2010, the State has decreased DOCARE’s funding from US$ 2 million to $500,000. This has left DOCARE with meager means to take care of the ocean and defend it against those who abuse it.
That’s where the new boat comes in. Maui’s new Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit (CFEU) is a partnership between the state of Hawaii, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and CI that aims to improve the capacity and effectiveness of DOCARE. This unit will vary from DOCARE’s traditional enforcement approach (which has officers responsible for both land- and marine-based rules and regulations) by focusing solely on the ocean.
So what inspired this effort to improve enforcement? CI recently contracted a survey of 200 fishers in Hawaii, which showed that the top two assumed reasons why fishers violated fishing regulations were that: 1) there was little chance of being caught for violations, and 2) fishers didn’t know what the laws were (see graph below). To address this issue, fishers stated that they would like to see more law enforcement.
This may seem counterintuitive at first — why would fishers want more fishery enforcement?
The answer is simple: fishers are the eyes and ears on the ocean. They have the best understanding of what’s happening to the fishery, and they are the ones who are most impacted by illegal fishing. Therefore, they above everyone else want a bountiful and sustainable fishery.
Improving fisheries enforcement creates an escalating positive feedback loop; it disincentivizes illegal fishing and rewards those who follow the rules. This ultimately leads to more fish for the law-abiding fishers.
The Hawaii Fish Trust’s vision is to restore seafood security to Hawaii. To do this, we need to ensure that the tradition and practice of fishing in Hawaii is managed responsibly.
I’m reminded of a great quote from the late Walter Paulo, a master fisherman from a community in Hawaii known as the “last Hawaiian fishing village.” He used to say, “Take care of the ocean, and the ocean will take care of you.” This is a very important and often forgotten concept that should guide how we all view our relationship with the ocean — and think about how we can give back.
Jason Philibotte is the director of CI’s Hawaii Fish Trust.