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Are the Hāʻena community-based subsistence fishing rules working?

Hawaii State Parks

An experiment in community-based fishery management is underway on Kauaʻi’s north shore.

"A lot of people say, it’s our right to go fishing but it’s not a right. It’s a kuleana to," says Presley Wann, President of the Hui Makaʻainana O Makana.

68-year-old Presley Wann is President of the Hui Makaʻainana o Makana, a group of families from Hāʻena who pushed to establish the Hāʻena Community Based Subsistence Fishing Area.

"We cannot depend on the government to help us out. We gotta do it.  It’s a big kuleana this hui has and it’s just for love of this place," says Wann.

It’s been almost two years since the community established a list of sustainable fishing rules to manage the local fishing supply, which extends one mile from shore and three and a half miles across the Hāʻena coast.

"We’re still seeing people breaking the rules," says Kawika Winter, a volunteer with Makai Watch, "We see flashlights in the water at two in the morning. One of the rules we have is banning night diving. We still see lay nets. We don’t see who puts them there but we see them in the water. So you know there’s still more work to be done about just getting the general public aware of what the rules are."

Kawika Winter volunteers with Makai Watch, a group of community members tasked with documenting rule violations and monitoring the resources within the subsistence fishing area.

"It’s gonna be self-enforcing. It’s going to need to be the people understanding the value of the rules and wanting to follow them because ultimately they deem this in the best interest of their families that we all follow these rules," says Winter.

The rulemaking process began in 2005 when the community saw a decline in the fishery and an overwhelming demand for the resources coming out of Hāʻena’s waters.

"So the community was getting frustrated to the point where people were gonna box," says Wann, "There were fights on the reef, you know?" 

"It wasn’t about setting aside pretty fish so that tourists could look at it. It wasn’t about making sure commercial fishermen could always make money. The need was so that Hāʻena could continue practicing fishing traditions and continue to feed its families from the ocean," says Winter.

In August 2015, Hāʻena became the first designated community-based subsistence fishing area to have a set of rules approved by the state.

"Yeah, it’s not like the fish are going to come back tomorrow because we have some rules in place," says Witner, "We need to address the fishing technologies and fishing practices that have been at the root of the decline."

As Hāʻena continues to monitor process in the subsistence fishing area, education and outreach are key. Permitted activity encourages the use of pole spears, throw nets, and catching heʻe or squid with a stick instead of a spear gun.

"It doesn’t mean that you can’t get heʻe. It doesn’t make it all that much harder to get a heʻe," says Winter, "It just means, 'Eh, this is how the people of Hāʻena have always gotten heʻe, and so if you’re going to come to Hāʻena and you’re gonna take heʻe, you gotta take it like us."

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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