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Message Icon Event: Lay nets threaten Hawaii sea life - Event Date: 28 Sep 2009 Post Reply Post New Topic
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Quote scubazine Replybullet Calendar Event: Lay nets threaten Hawaii sea life
    Posted: 29 Sep 2009 at 00:51

An abandoned lay gillnet recently removed from Kane'ohe Bay contained a macabre catch of the dead and dying: a 3-foot blacktip shark, slipper lobsters, uhu, kala and other reef species, and a collection of fish skeletons.
Brian Hauk, of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources, said the 1,000-foot-long net had been in the water for up to a month when it was removed by authorities May 19 near the Coconut Island Hawai'i Marine Laboratory Refuge. It was unregistered, lacked required identification tags and was far larger than allowed by law.

"I think it was just irresponsible fishermen. They set it and either forgot about it or it was a junky net to begin with and they left it," he said. "We have no idea who it belongs to."

Dozens of lay gillnets, stretching a total of several miles, have been seized by state conservation enforcement officers since new regulations were established in 2007 governing use of the nets and banning them from Maui waters and three nearshore areas of O'ahu.

DLNR Chairwoman Laura H. Thielen said the rules so far have had "some modest effect" in reducing the impact of lay netting on coral reef ecosystems.

"We also found out it really illustrates how difficult and complicated fishing regulations can be, and the challenges in enforcing fishing regulations and rules," she said.

Hawai'i is the only state that does not prohibit inshore lay nets, which are banned or severely restricted in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Fiji and many other Pacific island nations and territories.

Even with the new restrictions, the nets are still allowed in 75 percent of waters around the main Hawaiian Islands, and DLNR enforcement has been hampered by staff and funding shortages.


Lay gillnets are considered by many reef conservationists and marine scientists to be an especially destructive fishing method. The nets are often strung together to cover hundreds or thousands of feet, and when left unattended for several hours, they can entangle hundreds of pounds of uhu, weke, papio and other targeted fish, crab and lobster, regardless of size or season. Also snagged is an unwanted catch, or bycatch, of baby sharks, green sea turtles, monk seals and other marine animals that may amount to 15 times the volume of targeted catch, according to the Pacific Fisheries Coalition, which favors a statewide lay gillnet ban.

The nets also can tear off large chunks of coral and destroy bottom habitat.

Destructive fishing practices such as lay gillnetting and spearfishing with scuba, that allow fishers to take large amounts of marine life in a single outing, are a major contributor to overfishing, according to Kim Hum, director of The Nature Conservancy's Hawai'i marine program.

"It's gear that is indiscriminate that leads to overfishing, more so than the guy out there with his family," she said. "This is about more fish in the ocean for everyone. ... Fishing by throw net, pole and line, hand line and breath-hold spearfishing can be done in a sustainable way if we take only what we need."

The Nature Conservancy, Malama Hawai'i and SeaWeb launched the "Fair Catch: Take What You Need, Not What You Can" campaign in 2006 to encourage fishing with sustainable and responsible methods and to push for a statewide ban on lay gillnets.

Lay gillnets or lay nets, also known as set, cross, paipai or moemoe nets, are usually made with monofilament nylon, with floats attached to the top edge and weights on the bottom. Fishers may set only one net at a time and must retrieve it from the ocean after four hours. While in the water, the nets must be inspected after two hours of being set and any unwanted, prohibited or protected species released.

Fishers also are prohibited from leaving the net unattended for longer than 30 minutes and from using it at night.

Since the rules took effect in 2007, 2,094 nets have been registered with DLNR.


Information on lay gillnet enforcement is not readily available, but a sampling of Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement records indicates that on O'ahu, 1.5 miles of abandoned or unregistered lay nets were removed from the ocean in the past year. The 250 pieces of net ranged from 50 to 300 feet long.

The haul included a net containing more than a dozen dead hammerhead shark pups near Waikalua Loko Fish Pond in Kane'ohe Bay.

"Many of the unregistered nets are placed at night, and when the fishermen come back hours later and see an enforcement officer there, they abandon it. People will abandon it because it's relatively inexpensive," Thielen said.

On Maui, where the nets are banned, 12 nets totaling 1,765 feet were seized in the past year.

Nets also were seized on the Big Island and Kaua'i, where they were strung across the Hanalei River after heavy rains in November to catch 'o'opu, a native fish of the goby family. The mesh size of the Kaua'i nets were smaller than allowed, and using lay nets in freshwater streams and stream mouths is illegal.

Lay nets also were found in the Ha'ena and Waimea rivers.


Tony Costa, who represents a loosely organized group called Hawaii Near-shore Fishermen, said the new rules went too far, especially in banning net use at night, the traditional time when that type of fishing takes place.

He said many of the people who use lay gillnets are Native Hawaiians and people in rural areas who rely on fish for subsistence. The rules had the effect of "turning law-abiding citizens into criminals" who are more likely to "run away" and abandon their nets if they fear getting caught, he said.

"If you lay the net and you go home and don't come back for two days, of course that's wrong, but that's not how responsible fishermen do it."

Fisherman Isaac Harp, 51, of Waimea on the Big Island, said he learned from his uncle how to snip strands in lay nets to free unwanted fish instead of trying to yank them out, which can injure the animals. He said he no longer uses lay nets and supports a statewide ban, except for "active use" of surround nets.

"I just noticed there was a lot of undesirable species getting caught up in the net, and I stopped doing that. I don't think throwing a spider web into the ocean is a good way to go. There are more selective ways of fishing," Harp said.

Bill Walsh, an aquatic biologist with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources who works on the Kona Coast, said lay nets traditionally were made by hand of natural fibers and were highly prized by fishermen, who took care to keep them from getting lost or torn on the reef.

"You try making a handmade net. It's a very different relationship than what fishermen have today with their nets," he said. "Now they're made of cheap monofilament. There's a lack of real responsibility because they are so easy to use and so cheap."

Walsh said the proliferation of inexpensive monofilament nylon gillnets is just one example of how some types of modern fishing gear contribute to declining fish stocks. Scuba equipment, global positioning systems, big power boats and fish finders "have allowed new fishers to enter the fishery and set nets deeper and in locations not previously harvested," he said.

"The key elements that can sustain a fishery are depth, darkness and distance. But now people can go fishing day or night, at any depth, and locate animals. We've lost those refuges."


Night fishing with scuba is becoming more common in Hawai'i, although many spearfishers look down on the practice as unsporting. The method targets resting parrotfish, a prized species whose numbers have dwindled precariously.

Spearfishing with scuba is banned in American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, but not in Hawai'i.

At ongoing statewide public hearings on possible fishing restrictions on parrotfish (uhu), goatfish (weke) and jacks (ulua and papio), there has been overwhelming support among recreational fishers for a similar prohibition here.

Costa said it's become a "knee-jerk reaction" to crack down on fishers when concerns are raised about fish stocks. He said longtime fishers self-regulate their activities based on what they were taught by kupuna, or elders.

"When I was fishing, we would swim up to the ko'a — the fishing 'houses' that provide shelter to the fish — and if the fish weren't ready, the school's not the right size or the fish are not mature enough, we would back off and let the house rest and come back three months or six months later and check it," he said. "We were taught this from our elders. Fishermen have been going along this way all these years."

Alan Friedlander, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Hawai'i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit who has studied fishing impacts on coral reef ecosystems, acknowledged there are many responsible fishers, but not enough to reverse the decline in fish populations. Friedlander led recent research that found that 75 percent of fish species in the main Hawaiian Islands are in "critical" or "depleted" condition.

"There are a lot of people out there who have pono (responsible) fishing practices and are fishing in a sustainable way, but there are so many people fishing now that it only takes a modest amount who aren't. The overall sheer volume of people fishing has an impact, even if everyone is fishing responsibly."

Reach Christie Wilson at

Edited by scubazine - 29 Sep 2009 at 01:00
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