Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Musings: Niihau No-Fishing Zone Meets Resistance

Westside Kauai Rep. Dee Morikawa and other members of the state House will be meeting with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) this week to discuss concerns about a proposed no-fishing zone around Niihau.

I certainly don't support this,” Dee wrote in an email to me. “There needs to be a fact-finding study to see if the Niihau complaints are warranted.”

The Robinson family, which owns the island, claims fishermen from Kauai have been over-harvesting fish and opihi on Niihau. The Robinsons have gotten support from Oahu Sen. Clayton Hee and other Hawaiian legislators to introduce a bill banning fishing around the island.

When you make a state law doing something like that, you set precedent,” a Kauai resident who occasionally fishes neat Niihau told me. “It's beginning to open like a can of worms. What's next? Larry Ellison on Lanai? Hawaiian Homes in Anahola?”

William Aila, director of the DLNR, reportedly is considering a similar approach to resolve resource “conflicts” at Molokai and Lanai, according to comments made at a November meeting with Kauai fishermen.

The Robinsons already have negotiated a memorandum of agreement with the state and federal governments to possibly include the waters around Niihau in the Hawaiian Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Final state approval is still needed.

Though all beaches in Hawaii are public to the highest seasonal wash of the waves, Niihau has long been considered essentially off-limits for shore landings — an unofficial ban the Robinsons enforced. Boating activity has increased in recent years, along with disputes between island residents and Kauai fishermen.

There was small kine altercations,” the fisherman told me. But an incident earlier this year, in which Niihau residents reportedly confiscated fishing gear from Keala Lanning and his nephews, who were picking opihi, “seemed to start Bruce [Robinson] on the campaign to shut Niihau off.” Lanning unsuccessfully sought a return of his property through DLNR.

The fisherman acknowledged that "some people do take advantage," including setting net in front of the one village where all Niihau residents live. “That, to me, is not showing respect for the people. But it's not right to close the whole island, because the state owns out to three miles and up to the high water line.”

Fishermen at the November meeting with Aila expressed concerns about restricting access to publicly-owned resources. They also said Niihau, Kauai and Kaula are connected, so the Niihau marine ecosystem can't be managed independently.

Aila and the Robinsons have justified the closure by saying Niihau residents depend on the ocean for food because they have no refrigeration. Others say Niihau is a “special case” because it is one of the few places where Hawaiians can still engage in traditional subsistence lifestyles. 

The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs is also weighing in with a proposed resolution contending that “in the recent months, outsiders have become even more bold and have raided the island of opihi and fish to the extent that oftentimes the people go hungry.” 

The resolution also maintains “the urgency of the plight of the Niihau people came to light through the Aha Moku Advisory Council on Oct. 18, 2013, when the latest report of ten commercial fishing boats were seen within the near-shore waters of Niihau taking as much opihi as they could gather.”

But others dispute those claims, saying fishermen haven't taken too much. Solar panels and generators do power refrigerators on Niihau, they say, and the Robinsons operate a barge that regularly brings in food from family members on Kauai. "The people there aren't starving," the fisherman said.

Though the Robinsons say Niihau has about 150 permanent residents, others say only about 30 to 50 people live there full-time. Many former Niihau residents have settled in Kekaha and Waimea.

Niihau residents also have access to wild game that is so plentiful, fishermen say, that some hunters pay Robinson for the chance to engage in eradication hunts, though they are not allowed to take the meat. The Robinsons also host expensive safaris for tourists who want to hunt the exotic game introduced there.

Some fishermen contend Bruce Robinson is seeking the ban in part to protect the resources for his own gain, because he reportedly has been selling opihi from the island for decades. Others claim that Sen. Hee and his friends were given “free reign” to hunt and fish on Niihau in exchange for supporting a no-fishing law.

There is also the issue of enforcement, with many asking how the state, which has a tiny staff of conservation officers, could enforce a no-fishing ban.

I would support beefing up the DOCARE enforcement staff to police the island better,” Dee said.

I think the politically right thing to do is have some sort of conservation in a way to satisfy both sides,” the fisherman said. “Maybe a closed zone in front of the village” where residents do regularly fish. But they can't easily access the rest of the island, he said, so it should not be closed to fisherman from Kauai.

Though Dee's district includes Niihau, she was not consulted about the fishing ban by the state, her fellow lawmakers or the Robinsons. Dee said she asked DLNR and the governor's office for an explanation of the proposal two weeks ago, but heard nothing back.

Dee said further public discussion on the issue “will occur when and if the bills are heard during the session. In the meantime, I have been listening to people and asking questions of those whom I feel may have suggestions. I'm also very accessible through my legislative e-mail [repmorikawa@capitol.hawaii.gov] and encourage anyone to submit concerns to me.”


Anonymous said...

Whtever they do, I hope they consult with cultural practitioners and carve out exceptions for the exercise of Native Hawaiian gathering rights and the rights of indigenous people under the UN treaty that Obama (and the rest of the world) signed.

Anonymous said...

Dee Morikawa is worthless. She couldn't organize a prayer meeting in the Vatican, let alone negotiate the labyrinth of DOCARE/DLNR.
Just post warnings at all harbors, "ATTENTION. If you go to Niihau the Niihau people will enforce their rights in the old way. Do not call for help, you are on your own, just you and the Niihauans"

Anonymous said...

My only question would be. How can the Robinson's sign a MOU with the State for an Ocean that they don't own?

Anonymous said...

“There needs to be a fact-finding study to see if the ... complaints are warranted.”

Wow. That's novel.

Anonymous said...

Resource management is resource management. It really shouldn't matter where you live. If over fishing is happening then everyone should cool your jets. Ha'ena is working on a community based subsistence fishing area. Its not about weather you live in Niihau or Kauai, its about if you live in the ocean.

Anonymous said...

Yeah let's blame the degradation of Haena on overfishing, not the globs of tourists who are covered in deet and sunblock and then go walk on the reef. People chase fish away, when more than 1 million tourists are swimming in the fishery, how does that work?

Anonymous said...

Well you can kiss it all off once that phony Omidyar gets going. It will be history and so will the remaining fish.

Anonymous said...

"Some fishermen contend Bruce Robinson is seeking the ban in part to protect the resources for his own gain, because he reportedly has been selling opihi from the island for decades. Others claim that Sen. Hee and his friends were given 'free reign' to hunt and fish on Niihau in exchange for supporting a no-fishing law."

These are lies made up to try and undermine the well-meaning attempt of Bruce Robinson to preserve the Niihau habitat for the Hawaiians who live there. Shameful lies.

On another note: The Robinsons dispute the State's ownership of the beach up to the high wash of the waves. The Robinson's deed from Kamehameha V show that they own the island to the outer edges of the reef. When the State made their beach ownership declaration in the 1960s they did not compensate the Robinsons for this taking and it is therefore an illegal taking and unperfected.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, The Robinson's deed from Kamehameha V show that they own the island to the outer edges of the reef.

The Robinson's never bought Niihau from Kamehameha V. The island was bought by the Sinclair family. Robinson married into the Sinclair family.

And I have bought opihi from Niihau since the 70's when it was $85 a gallon. Now it's double that.

Most of the Niihauans now live on Kauai, There may be about 30 or so Kanaka that live there now.

Robinson on the last introduction invited over a hundred monk seals to Niihau of which each one will eat on the average, about 20 pounds of fish in a day.

2000 pounds a day or 30 tons a month.

Yep blame the fishermen.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line, Robinson's are setting the bomb for their own empire downfall...

They don't have title "OWNERSHIP OF NIIHAU" or any Lands here in Ko Hawaii Pae Aina.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous December 20, 2013 at 12:59 PM

If you knew what your were talking about then you'd know that Bruce Robinson is a direct lineal descendent of Eliza Sinclair, his great great grandmother. Maybe you forgot that she only had daughters who settled with her on Ni' ihau and Kaua'i. One of the daughters married a Robinson and as custom dictated took her husband's surname. You can even look it up on Wikipedia and common knowledge to those who are obviously more informed than you.

Unknown said...

So what would keep me from taking a small boat to the island and walking around it below the high water line? Are the residents going to actually murder me? What if I did this with a video camera and Sat phone?