KAHULUI - A Waihee man who fishes with a pole and line charged that when people use lay nets to catch fish, "you are disturbing nature's natural cycle."
During a public meeting Tuesday on proposed rules on use of gill nets, John Barclay said when fish are caught by pole, it means the fish are "ready to be harvested." He supported the proposals that would make it unlawful to use lay nets overnight.
But others participating in the meeting held at Lihikai School questioned whether the state could enforce any new rules or objected that lay nets are not the cause of the problems facing the reef fish resources in Hawaii.
Barclay said recreational fishermen should be able to catch what they need without using a net at night.
"You can catch all that (night) fish with hook and line," he said.
Net users said Hawaii's reef fish are more severely impacted by the introduction of ta'ape, or blue-lined snapper, a prolific species introduced in 1958 that has spread across Hawaii's waters but has not proven to be a commercially popular fish.
Alvin Boteilho, a Wailuku net fisherman, said the ta'ape are the reason for the decline in other Hawaiian reef fish species.
"The nets are a small problem. That fish ate all the babies of the other fish," Boteilho said.
About the ta'ape he added, "Who like eat that fish?"
Darrell Aquino, a diver and net fisherman from Keanae, said he believes the ta'ape are attacking popular reef fish such as menpachi and aweoweo, resulting in a decline in those species in the East Maui reefs where he dives.
"The nets are not killing our reef fish," he said.
Ken Sadang, a Lahaina recreational fisherman, objected to a provision that would allow lay nets only during daylight hours. Nets should be allowed at night because "some fish travel at night, some in the day," he said. He also objected to allowing a net to be used only once every 24 hours, with a four-hour limit on how long a net can be left in the water. He said it would be like requiring a hunter to use a gun for only four hours and then having to get a new gun to continue hunting.
"A hunter with more than one gun isn't going to go and come back, or bring another gun to still hunt," he said.
Similar objections were raised at a meeting held on Molokai earlier this month.
Billy Kalipi and Kanoho Helm, two Molokai subsistence fishermen, said each island should have its own task force to develop its own rules on fishing. Every island is different, Kalipi said.
"I think there should be laws, but I think for every island they should make their own laws," Helm said. "It's the fishermen and the community that are going to watch each other."
Kalipi said that some of the proposed restrictions will put a burden on subsistence fishermen who depend on the fish they catch not only to feed their families but to supplement their incomes.
"I tell you, I get some fishermen, they fish and they sell. They sell because they no more job," he said.
"That's part of this subsistence, because they are too old. They got to lay net nighttime. They check the net at night so the fish no 'pilau' Ö no spoil," he said.
He objected to allowing nets only during the day.
"Daytime people going run over our net. I just no like the idea," he said.
A Maui net user, Mitchell Pauole Lani, who said he has been fishing with lay nets for more than 50 years, said he was dismayed that few net fishermen participated in the meeting Tuesday night.
"I'm a little upset," he said.
Earlier this year, Lani participated in a meeting on rules establishing new size limits for some of the most popular reef fish, where lay-net fishing was blamed for killing undersized fish and damaging the reefs.
Now, he said, he feared a complete ban on use of gill nets.
Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehe Maxwell questioned whether the state can enforce its own rules.
"The intent is good," he said, but "the state is broke. They can't enforce the rules on the books."
"How practical are these restrictions?" he said. "Why are you making one more group of regulations and can't enforce it?"
State aquatics biologist Alton Miyasaka said the proposals are based on recommendations from the state Gill Net Task Force and comments from the public. The proposals also are intended to deal with concerns of the Division of Conservation Resources Enforcement that will "better allow them to enforce the laws," he said.
Provisions that would ease enforcement include proposals that nets be marked with visible floaters, that nets be registered with the state and that a net that has been used cannot be returned to the water for 24 hours.
Still, Miyasaka said the proposals for now are "discussion points."
"We haven't made up our mind on any of these things," he told his Maui audience Tuesday night.
Now is the time for those who fish to recommend changes where they see problems that will affect recreational or commercial net users, he said. He said he did not expect the proposed revisions to go to the Board of Land & Natural Resources for action for another year.
He reported that there was no public testimony at a meeting held on Lanai, but on Molokai, more than 75 residents attended the meeting on Sept. 10. The Molokai audience was "not too supportive," he said.
"They felt more like, most of them were subsistence net fisherman, they didn't feel there is a need to regulate gill nets more now," he said.
Some asked that the state remove existing restrictions while others said there were plenty of fish for them, so there is no problem.
Comments on the proposed rules can be sent to the Division of Aquatics Resources until Oct. 23 at 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 330, Honolulu 96813. Comments may also be e-mailed to email@example.com or sent by fax to (808) 587-0115.
To receive a summary of the proposed changes, call the Division of Aquatic Resources offices at 243-5294 on Maui, 567-6696 on Molokai or (808) 587-0010.
The proposed changes may also be viewed online at www.state.hi.us/dlnr/dar.