Protecting Diamond Head Fishery

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 14, 2009
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A sign informs anglers of the law

It’s an odd year for fishermen who enjoy the waters off Waikiki, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing - unless you break the rules.

For more than two decades, the state has closed the Waikiki-Diamond Head Shoreline Fisheries Management Area during odd-numbered years. 2009 means no fishing for one year between the ewa wall of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium and the Diamond Head lighthouse.

“The shoreline and near-shore waters between the natatorium and the Diamond Head lighthouse are very popular with residents, visitors and fishers,” says Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Every odd-numbered year we close this area to fishing to allow near-shore marine life populations to replenish.”

The “no-fishing zone” is from the high-water mark on shore to a minimum of 500 yards off-shore, or to the edge of the reef if one occurs beyond 500 yards.

“It gets confusing sometimes since the reef is different along the coast, but the rules are the rules,” says fisherman Tyler Espiritu. “I don’t like it, but what are you going do?”

Espiritu isn’t alone. Many diehard fishermen aren’t convinced closing the fishery for 12 months restores resources.

“The state has never really proved anything all these years,” says a frustrated Espiritu. “Some people listen, but many don’t. You see people out here in the early morning or late at night all the time during odd years. The truth is, no more as much fish as before.”

The state says anyone caught fishing in the protected area during the restricted time may be guilty of a petty misdemeanor and can face fines of up to $1,000 per violation. This includes taking or injuring any marine life, including eggs. It also means not wearing any fishing gear during the period.

“I still see guys diving and spearfishing out here,” says Kanalu Mattos. “Still get uhu, weke, tako - even ulua and o’io sometimes. I don’t see much enforcement.”

Fishermen say one of the biggest problems is greed or overfishing. Mattos says during even-numbered years, when the area is open for fishing, many go “overboard” starting from the first day of the year.

“Some guys stay here five, six hours on Jan. 1,” says Mattos.“I remember in 2006, Kaimana was all fished out in less than two weeks.”

Mattos recalls seeing nearly 50 fishermen in the water at Kaimana Beach one day, with more near the Diamond Head lighthouse.

“The old-timers say it’s not like it used to be when you could catch enough fish to feed your family and some,” says the young, avid fisherman. “We’ll see if 2009 makes a difference for us next year.”

Some fishermen say the only way to really see a difference is to shut down a major part of the island for a few years. Others call for fewer restrictions and better enforcement, especially during even-numbered years when rules still apply, including no gill nets or traps allowed, and spear-fishing limited to daylight hours. Throw nets however, are allowed.

“The DLNR needs to crack down on those guys laying nets and not returning,” says Espiritu. “You catch them and you solve some of our shortages, because some of them take everything, no matter what the size.”

State officials are confident the program will help reproduce the fish population on Oahu’s south shoreline, or at the very least, allow fish to grow and age. At the same time, they understand the frustrations of those who follow the rules are real.

“Again, the rules are the rules, and hopefully everybody follows them this year,” says Espiritu.

It’s not an odd request when you’re talking about the future - or at least 2010.

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