It’s not our fault, but it’s still our problem. This is a response I often share with fellow fishermen who are understandably frustrated because they see problems like pollution and development affecting nearshore fisheries, while hearing about proffered solutions that only target extractive users like them. It’s true, that problems like invasive species and runoff have—beyond question—degraded Hawaii’s nearshore fisheries. But ultimately, while we work together to address those other big, complex issues, regardless of the why, all that we have left is all that we have left, so we must understand how to use it wisely.
Indeed, my own frustration lies in the disappointing disconnect between “fishers” and “conservationists” in Hawai‘i over the years, and they are often perceived as occupying two extreme ends of the spectrum of those who care about our ocean. But in reality, I’ve never met a fisherman that wasn’t committed to conserving resources for future generations, and I’ve never met a dedicated conservationist that doesn’t at least enjoy ‘ono meals from the ocean, if not harvesting it themselves. I offer myself as evidence of one who is decidedly both.
We are the same. We are all committed to Hawai‘i. We all see the same problems facing our ocean. We all have the same vision of our ocean continuing to support us for generations to come. What we at times disagree on is what to do about it. But ultimately, we cannot manage what we do not understand. The status of our reef fish stocks, and the amount of harvest pressure on them, largely remain a mystery. That we have passionate disagreements and wildly differing perspectives among stakeholders on the health of our fisheries (some assert that reef fish stocks in Hawaii are 25% of what they were a century ago, while others will argue that they are better now than ever before!) is evidence in itself that we have little firm basis to inform management decisions.
And so we are pleased to have been part of a process alongside both “fishers” and “conservationists” to find one possible solution in a non-commercial license, registry or permit (LRP) for Hawaii. This process has recently resulted in a report that is perhaps the most thorough analysis of a potential LRP program ever done for Hawaii. It lays out clearly the potential benefits and pitfalls of an LRP system for Hawaii’s marine resources and those that use them. Of course, it won’t solve all of our problems, but from the information from this report, it seems an LRP could finance better management, foster better dialog, and invite all of us into a relationship where there is clear expectation of meaningful return for our investment into such a program. From my perspective, if I’m willing to spend $15 on a lure than I’m willing to spend at least that much to ensure there’s something to catch with it.
After exhaustive legal research and meetings with other States that have LRP programs, we have learned that there is a lot—if done right—an LRP gets us, both directly and indirectly through the revenue it could generate. A license could give voice to fishers by availing them of simple online polls to provide public sentiment on specific issues. It could directly provide user data, indirectly support fisheries data collection through revenue generated, enable deeper dives through surveys, and make broader outreach possible through efforts such as expanded fish tagging projects and other participatory research. It could be a means to markedly improve enforcement. It could also be a means by which DAR provides useful information and other benefits to fishers (for example, where fish are running, or what target species are enjoying good recruitment years), not just “asks,” but a fair balance of ‘give and take.’
An LRP program is not a silver bullet. It would not solve all of our issues. But what has become apparent to me (I do not represent the others who participated in this study) through this process is that it could lay a very promising foundation to begin chipping away at them. We are only at the starting point of this process, where our aim was to be open to, and thoughtful about, various LRP designs for Hawai‘i. The focus is now on sharing these findings as broadly as possible with our community of users. With that, in an effort to further this process, we offer a link to the report on DAR’s website here, urge you to read through it, decide for yourself, and be a part of the discussion.