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Series of puwalus look toward improving fishing

HILO, Hawaii – Throughout the Hawaiian islands fishermen, Native Hawaiians and the public are coming together to share their knowledge of the sea. These statewide puwalu (unions), hosted by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, are aimed at developing best practices in the marine and fishing communities based upon traditional resource management systems.

Kicking-off on Moku O Keawe (the Big Island) with stops on Lanai, Maui, Kauai, Oahu and Molokai, the series delves into the subjects of adaptive management and regulation, code of conduct, community consultation, local and visitor education, and criteria necessary to be eligible to make decisions regarding natural resource management.

The findings will be presented to WPRFMC members and be used to implement the council’s Hawaii Archipelago Fishery Ecosystem Plan, which includes enhanced community involvement in the fishery management decision making process.

The series of puwalu are just part of the WPRFMC provision to support and sustain indigenous and other fishing communities in the U.S. Pacific Islands. The council was established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976, which was reauthorized in 1996 as the Sustainable Fisheries Act and most recently reauthorized in 2006.

“As someone who is intimate with the oceans and the land, your input is needed,” WPRFMC Executive Director Kitty Simonds, Native Hawaiian, said in her welcoming address.

WPRFMC Fishery Analyst Joshua DeMello, Native Hawaiian, explained that the organization is hosting the meetings to solidify the process by which the ahupua’a (specific natural resource region from the mountain out and into the sea) fishermen/women and other community members are able to have direct control in managing their traditional waters.

On Moku O Keawe alone, there are 397 ahupua’a. So gathering the input of the thousands of Hawaiians and others from throughout the islands who depend upon fishing and other natural resources as their business and/or for subsistence is no small task.

Fisherman and WPRFMC cultural advisor Kaleo Kuali’i, Native Hawaiian, said he was chosen by his kupuna, (elders) to participate in the WPRFMC conferences to represent hundreds of Big Island Kanaka Ma’oli (People of this Place) so their traditional knowledge of fishing (lawai`a) and farming (mahi`ai) are respected and preserved for the future.

“I speak, I have a mouth, but they are my voice,” Kuali’i said.

He explained that traditional fisheries knowledge and management has successfully maintained Hawaiians and their land for 1,700 years through a sense of responsibility or kuleana.

“It is in us, we were brought up with this fish in us,” said Edwin Miranda, a Native Hawaiian fisherman.

This Hawaiian code of conduct in fishing and along the shores has been implemented for generations by the community as well as selected leaders from within.

Kahu Ikaika Dombrigues, spiritual leader for the Big Island Kanaka Council, a Hawaiian sovereignty coalition, emphasized the need for youth education in kuleana and Hawaiian ways of caring for the land and sea. Classroom presentations, fishing clinics, movies and pamphlets are just a few suggestions that were made as ways of educating the younger generations and the public at large.

Simonds said the information shared in community meetings such as these is invaluable and has helped the WPRFMC to make major changes including implementing its recent switch from species-based fishery management plans to place-based fishery ecosystem plans.

WPRFMC Indigenous Coordinator Charles Kaaiai, Native Hawaiian, pointed to the development of the Marine Education and Training Program, which dispersed $2 million throughout the Western Pacific Region (Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands). The WPRFMC has also developed a fishermen’s website – – where fishing logs including fish type, weight and length, weather conditions, type of hooks used and water salinity can be reported for use in setting fishing standards for the future.

The council also worked with Moanalua High School in Honolulu to develop an educational video detailing this site.

The council is in the process of developing a Traditional Knowledge Literacy Guide with guidance from Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other indigenous Pacific Island communities as well as other place-based resources that are more applicable to indigenous ways of life.

To the WPRFMC, the best way to manage resources is through the combination of Western science and traditional ecological knowledge.

“Coupled together they are the best way to manage and steward our resources for the nutritional, cultural and other needs of the communities for the long-term,” WPRFMC communications officer and co-chair of the National Marine Educators Association’s Traditional Knowledge Committee Sylvia Spalding said.

Ho’Ohanohano Puwalu

Spalding explained that the council began holding its first puwalu series in 2006 to explore ways that traditional natural resources practices could be incorporated into contemporary resource management and education.

Joining the council in this endeavor were the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate, the State of Hawaii, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and a number of other community organizations throughout the state.

These puwalu gave rise to the Aha Kiole Advisory Committee, enacted by State of Hawaii Act 212 – A Bill for an Act Relating to Native Hawaiians, which Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law in 2007.

The eight-member Aha Kiole includes one member from each of the main Hawaiian islands and was tasked with providing the Legislature with a system and structure of best practices for traditional Native Hawaiian natural resource management.

This act is paving the way for Native Hawaiian traditional knowledge and practices to be incorporated into today’s state and federal programs.

On the web:

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council at a glance: One of eight regional fishery management councils in the U.S.

Includes the U.S. exclusive economic zone waters (3 to 200 miles offshore) around the state of Hawaii; U.S. territories of American Samoa and Guam; the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; and the U.S. Pacific remote island areas of Wake, Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Midway, Palmyra, Kingman Reef and Johnston Atoll.

In 2008, the Hawaii commercial fishing landings in Honolulu alone amounted to $73 million in ex-vessel prices.

More than 25 percent of the households in Hawaii surveyed engage in non-commercial pole-and-line fishing (QMark 2005).

The Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative Association includes more than 180 part-time and a few full-time fishermen, most of whom harvest primarily for subsistence; which is for cultural sharing, barter or marginal recovery of expenses associated.

WPRFMC has 13 voting members including:

eight private citizens (at least one from American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Hawaii) appointed by the secretary of Commerce from lists submitted by the governor of each island areas who serve three-year terms;

the director of the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources;

the secretary of the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources;

The director of the Guam Department of Land and Natural Resources;

The regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office.

WPRFMC contains three non-voting members including:

A U.S. Coast Guard District representative;

A U.S. Department of State representative;

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative.

WPRFMC staff and executive director consists of 18 individuals.

WPRFMC Advisory Bodies include:

the Scientific and Statistical Committee;

the Archipelagic and Pelagic Plan Teams;

the Advisory Panel, which includes recreational and commercial fishermen charter boat operators, buyers, sellers, consumers, and indigenous fishermen;

Regional Ecosystem Advisory Committees; and more.

WPRFMC convenes regularly three times each year, or more as needed.

WPRMC is funded by Congress through a line item in the NMFS budget.

For more on the council, visit or e-mail