I wasn’t sure I would publicly ever tell this story, but it seems like the right time and place, now.
While at DLNR, when we were contemplating State rules for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI,) several proposals were being considered; multiple maps illustrated the various alternatives.
Of particular interest and one of the significant issues at hand, was whether we would continue to permit bottom fishing, or not. At the time, a handful of bottom fishers had permits.
In addressing the potential impact of eliminating NWHI bottom fishing, I had a concern about the impact to the price of fresh bottom fish that local consumers would face, if we would eliminate that source.
I had requested that a study be done to evaluate the impact. PEW Foundation funded the study that folks at UH prepared concerning the price impact. That study concluded that prices increases were expected to be insignificant.
Never-the-less, various alternatives and mapping of such were part of the final evaluation.
We had regular meetings with individuals, organizations and federal agencies about the rules – whether fishing should be allowed, or not; if allowed, should we limit that to certain areas, etc.
For the longest time, we would go back to a certain map that was labeled “Peter’s” map. (I think it was really ‘Alternative 3’.)
That map, and the internal draft rule package associated with it, allowed for continued fishing in designated areas.
DLNR staff prepared a set of draft rules to take before the Board of Land and Natural Resources as the State’s proposed rules – it called for continuation of existing bottom fishing in the NWHI; the map noted open and closed areas for fishing.
These were being prepared to present them to the Land Board.
For weeks, each night, I would take the rule package home and review the rules and maps. I would occasionally make tweaks in the rules, but the basic premise (of continued fishing) remained.
Literally, in the morning of the decision to set the date for presentation and decision by the Land Board, I came to work (having re-reviewed the package the night before) and received a call from Athline Clark, who was DLNR’s lead for the NWHI.
We discussed the draft rules and I said, “Let’s go with it.”
Then, she simply asked, “Are you sure?”
At that moment, the last three weeks flashed through my mind and I remembered how uncomfortable I had been feeling about what we were proposing – and the lack of sleep that I had during this time.
I then went with my gut feeling of what I felt was right and said, “No, let’s shut it down.”
We immediately created the Refuge rules whose intent is “To establish a marine refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for the long-term conservation and protection of the unique coral reef ecosystems and the related marine resources and species, to ensure their conservation and natural character for present and future generations.”
Fishing is prohibited.
This started a process where several others followed with similar protective measures.
The BLNR unanimously adopted the State’s Refuge rules, they were later signed by Governor Lingle; President Bush declared it a Marine National Monument (President Obama later expanded its size)’ UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site and … I guess, the rest is history.
To me, this action reflects the responsibility we share to provide future generations a chance to see what it looks like in a place in the world where you don’t take something.
One of the issues about the rules, and in protecting the place, relates to access. Due to the sensitivity of the area, permits are limited – so, rather than taking the people to the place, there are tools now in place to bring the place to the people.
Here’s a link to Google ‘Street View’ for some of the islands and atolls:
Here’s a link to the Monument website:
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Leatrice Kauahi says
mahalo piha for second, second, thoughts.
I’m sure glad you told this story. I went to a number of public meetings as the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve developed into Papahanaumokuakea and saw and felt the power of WESPAC’s commercial interests as they fought to prevent the closing of the fisheries up there. It was a real battle at times.
Thanks for shutting down the exploitation of the NWHI. It took a lot of people much time and energy to get the area protected.
I was one of the designers and producers of the original Mokupapapa Discovery Center as well as the head designer and producer of Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve education center. As I prepare to leave Hawaii, I feel a certain comfort that I’ve helped many people understand the importance of marine life and general environmental conservation concerns. They were the most important projects I produced in the 25 years I’ve lived here.