Anglers Prepare for End of Bottomfishing in Remote Waters of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
HONOLULU -- In a marine area nearly the size of California, stretching northwest from the main Hawaiian islands, a handful of anglers still ply the waters, hooking seabass and snappers during trips that last days or weeks.
But their way of life will end in just over four years because of the vast marine monument President Bush has established out of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"I just think it's a way of making a living that we can do at our speed. And we really like doing it," said Timm Timoney, 60, who travels with her husband to the region about a thousand miles from the main Hawaiian Islands for about three weeks at a time.
Bush's creation of the monument in June brought an end in the protected waters to bottomfishing -- a technique that involves trolling for fish using hooks and lines. The technique is the last form of fishing still allowed in the area.
Though it was applauded by preservationists, Bush's announcement didn't address compensating the anglers for their loss of livelihood. There are now eight permit holders, including four boats said to be actively fishing the region.
Bringing in just $645,150 in 2006, the fish from the remote islands make up less than one percent of Hawaii's $70 million local fishing industry. So the end of fishing in the area is not expected to have a major effect on the general supply of fish for local restaurants or fish markets.
The Pew Charitable Trust, a private Philadephia-based group focused on public interest issues, met with the area's bottom fisherman more than a year ago in an effort to speed up the process of creating a strict conservation zone. But after an offer to pay the anglers five times their average annual income to stop fishing, negotiations went nowhere.
Since creation of the monument was announced, Pew has abandoned its efforts to persuade the fishermen to leave early.
Two of the permit owners demonstrated interest in Pew's offer, two possibly had interest, and four were unresponsive, according to trust officials.
All permit holders would have had to participate in the offer for it to go through -- which didn't sit well with some fishermen.
"Fishermen are kind of independent in general, and so getting them to agree on whether the stop light is red or green is not always easy," said Sean Martin, chairman of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Fisherman Gary Dill said it would be difficult to put a price on never fishing the islands again.
The experience of fishing the region is a far cry from the busy harbors, city lights and honking horns of Oahu, said Dill, who takes three-day trips to pull in a catch.
"It's the wild, wild west. There's no lines on the highway," he said. "You're immersed in mother nature doing a job, a task that somehow you find exciting."
The biologically rich region of tiny islands and churning waters teems with 14 million nesting seabirds, with about 7,000 species of birds, fish and marine mammals in all, a quarter of which are unique to Hawaii.
Several of the islands have a long history of human use, including as military landing strips, guano mines and sources for bird parts and eggs. But the islands have been protected for nearly a century as wildlife refuges, with protections generally stretching out to a depth of 60 feet in surrounding waters.
Federal waters extending out about 50 miles became a coral reef ecosystem reserve under executive orders in 2000 and 2001 from President Clinton. That started a five-year clock on a process to fashion a marine sanctuary out of the region and answer such questions as whether or not to allow fishing.
Bush trumped the sanctuary process with his decision to ban fishing in the 137,792 square-mile area, creating the largest no-take marine sanctuary in the world.
The state had already banned fishing in the state waters, extending three miles out from the islands' coasts, in September 2005.
"There should be a place in the world where we don't take things away, just protect them," Gov. Linda Lingle said Friday, following a ceremony giving a new Hawaiian name to the monument, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
On the Net:
Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/midway/
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Monument: http://hawaiireef.noaa.gov/
Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/wnwr/pnorthwestnwr.html
Source: Associated Press